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BLIHR | Step 1

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STEP 1: Form a human rights baseline for your business

A first step is for a business to build up an ongoing base-line of human rights as they relate to the specific nature of your company.  All human rights must be considered at this stage but much greater depth can be applied to specific rights and issues which relate the footprint of the company: the nature and size of its operations, the countries and localities in which it operates. This base-line can be developed before the human rights implications of a particular project or operation are considered. Provided the base-line is updated, it can be drawn on repeatedly by you and other business managers around the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the supporting covenants identify over 30 fundamental human rights.  As you map your business’s operations, products and places of business activity, certain human rights will be in focus more than others.  This may warrant prioritisation among the several human rights risks you first wish to address.  Certain business sectors already have an interest in sharing knowledge and experiences about human rights-based processes and procedures.  It is worthwhile researching which sector-specific groups might be available to you and which might have valuable tools for you to adapt to your business.

From an operational perspective, your business needs to understand your supply chain, the extent of your joint venture (minority/majority) activities, and the range of your affiliates and subsidiaries.  From the perspective of products, human rights issues can develop in the product design phase, the manufacturing phase (including the supply chain dimension), the marketing phase with respect to product use/misuse or at the end of life.  These potential human rights connections must be understood through the entire value chain.  Even well-intended and well-designed products can become instruments of human rights violations if in the hands of immoral private customers or governments.  It is therefore also important to know who your customers are and consider their human rights record.  Finally, the geographic reach of your business must also be mapped. 

In summary, therefore, there are three main types of information to draw together when forming your company’s human rights baseline:

  1. Data on human rights situations locally and nationally in existing areas of operation. This can be drawn from Government, NGO or Media sources (for example www.business-humanrights.org) and specialist business and human rights service providers (for example the Danish Institute for Human Rights or Maplecroft);
     
  2. The known impact of your business sector globally in relation to human rights. It is possible that there is already some consensus within your business sector as to the specific human rights and issues which represent key priorities (in addition to all rights at the essential level). Multi-stakeholder initiatives specific to your sector are one way that these ‘norms’ are established: such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, Fair Labour Association, Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security, the Equator Principles, UNEP Finance Initiative Human Rights Toolkit, Electronics Industry Code of Conduct and Global Networks Initiative;
     
  3. The experiences of your specific company on human rights issues around the world which should be recorded internally as well as sometimes reaching public attention.

 


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