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Human Rights Day 2020: Corporate Human Rights Responsibility

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10th December is celebrated as Human Rights Day across the world. It is observed to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Human Rights Day 2020: Recover Better – Stand up for Human Rights

As the world is still suffering a blow dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme for the Human Rights Day 2020 is focused on the need to build back better by ensuring that Human Rights are central to the recovery efforts.

Corporate Human Rights Responsibility

In a globalised world, as people are getting more conscious about the companies and brands they associate with, it is impossible for business to conduct its operations while making human rights violations. The companies today are mandated to adhere to the laws that protect human rights across the world by the national laws of the countries that they operate in. In order to abide by this, the companies declare the steps and measures taken by them for the protection of human rights in their annual reports.

Human Rights Policy of Corporate Leaders

HP’s Human Rights Journey

HP has a strong sense of responsibility towards Human rights, since its inception. The company’s founding principles lay a great emphasis upon the corporate citizenship. In fact, the founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard believed that a company that focuses solely on profits ultimately betrays both itself and society.
HP’s approach is known to continuously evolve with respect to known as well as emerging issues. The company’s journey to Human Rights responsibility began with the recognition for a need to establish a Supplier Code of Conduct to address the risks faced by supplier workers and to conduct due diligence in the supply chain. The company worked with the industry players to agree on a common code of conduct for the electronics industry. This led to HP becoming a co-founder of the Responsible Business Alliance, formerly known as Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC),–the world’s largest industry coalition dedicated to corporate social responsibility in global supply chains.
In 2003, HP established its first human rights policy. In 2004, it joined the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights to develop a guide for integrating human rights into business management. The company conducted its first corporate-wide human rights assessment in 2010 and established an exclusive Human Rights Office by 2011.
In 2014, HP was the first IT company to establish a foreign migrant worker standard that required direct employment of migrant workers by its suppliers. In the last five years, the company has co-founded the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, published its Sustainable Impact strategy, which covers human rights, and provided annual disclosures on remedies provided to workers. In 2019, HP has published its Human Rights Progress Report—which is a first stand-alone publication about the human rights progress of the company.
The responsibility to respect human rights is driven from the top of HP. Governance and leadership are therefore the starting point for all human rights activities throughout the company. The executive leadership team of the company led by the CEO retains overall responsibility for Sustainable Impact as part of its business strategy. All members of the executive leadership team oversee Sustainable Impact targets relevant to their organizations and are evaluated annually against objectives related to Sustainable Impact, including diversity and inclusion. Performance against these and other business objectives is tied to total compensation.

Unilever’s Human Rights Commitment

Unilever aims at embedding the respect and promotion of human rights into every function, role and corner of the organisation. As part of meeting the ambition, the company has made a commitment in 2014 to disclose its efforts and challenges in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2015 it published an inaugural Human Rights Report, followed by a Progress Report in 2017. In 2018 and 2019 the company showed highlights of its progress through a film and by providing examples as to how it is addressing these issues at a country and global level.
The company has a detailed policy in order for each of the human rights issues. For example, to avoid discrimination the company published Implementation Guidance to complement the Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces – a global programme created in association with the UN Women. In order to drive progress on fair wages in the tea supply chain, Unilever became Chair of the Ethical Tea Partnership Living Wage Working Group. It also joined the World Cocoa Federation, which aims to achieve a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector in which farmer and worker livelihoods are a key element, and the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which promotes child protection in cocoa-growing communities, reflecting the fact that low incomes are among the root causes of child labour. Unilever has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to participate in the “Harvesting the Future” project in Turkey. The project brings together the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (“SAI”), agricultural suppliers, and buyers to improve working conditions for migrants in seasonal agriculture work in Turkey, and is focused on the remediation of child labour practices, and promoting fair recruitment. Interventions include awareness-raising, capacity building, grievance mechanisms, case management, and referral services.