Human rights are fundamental rights and liberties based on dignity, justice, equality, and respect that safeguard us as we interact with other elements of society.
One of these elements is business. Business is directly related to the world of work and the way we operate and manage our relationships with different stakeholders on a daily basis. It is connected to working conditions, safety, health, and mental well-being of the people in the organization.
Human rights serve as a comprehensive lens through which to assess the effects that businesses have on people in the process of conducting business.
What do human rights mean in the context of business?
When people think of human rights violations related with business activities, they may envision factories with child labour and hazardous working conditions. There is no doubt that businesses must pay strict attention to how people are treated all through the value chain, but businesses can also have an impact on human rights in more subtle ways.
Businesses with a digital presence, for example, must ensure that they observe people’s privacy rights and follow data protection laws; healthcare providers must treat the people they care for with decency and respect; and all businesses must provide safe working conditions – physical, mental, and emotional – for their employees.
Rethinking human rights as care and compassion for employees
Perhaps what tends to be most overlooked, or not even considered in the human rights spectrum, is the way businesses treat their employees.
Leaders tend to think that care, compassion and servant leadership has to come at the cost of high performance. Yet, there are many examples of leaders who balance both for superior business results. For instance, when sales employees feel more inspired and engaged, they produce better sales results, contributing to their daily tasks with increased creativity and commitment.
While pressuring employees to perform better may offer immediate financial benefits, the expenses of such tactics can quickly outweigh the long-term benefits. Stress-related health-care expenses are higher in pressure cooker organizations, as are decreased engagement, absenteeism, and employee loyalty. Any reasonable manager will realize how these tendencies impair not just the well-being of employees, but also the financial success of a firm.
Consider compassion and servant leadership. Selfless cultures and leaders strongly enhance trust, connection, and engagement, which are key human rights topics. Workers who feel their leader cares for them are 15% more likely to stay with the company. They also have more freedom, space for expression, as well as for taking autonomous decisions regarding their professional and personal well-being.
It is a win-win prospect for both businesses and the people involved in running it.
The human rights agenda is about much more than national adoption of the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It cannot only be limited to a legal or legislative undertaking.
Considering that close to 40% of the workforce is employed in large organizations, the role of business and corporate governance cannot be underestimated.
If leaders in organizations can self-reflect on how they show up with their employees, and cultivate deeper self-awareness of their own and teams’ emotional states, they can foster a culture of high performance whilst being present, compassionate and authentic with their teams.
The most powerful way leaders can demonstrate human rights on the ground is not only through programmes and initiatives but through day-to-day actions based on empathy and compassion. It isn’t a check-the-box exercise or a quick cure. It’s about doing what’s best for each person, the team, and the corporation, as well as taking into account other aspects that may shape or impair the current scenario.
And when this bears fruit, businesses will have taken steps in the right direction towards a more human, just world.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Atul Padalkar is a Director at Potential Project India. Potential Project is a global leadership training and organizational development firm that helps leaders and companies enhance performance, clarity, focus, resilience and creativity in today’s fast-paced, complex, ‘always-on’ world. The solutions offered by Potential Project are pragmatic and immediately applicable, delivered by experienced facilitators who have spent decades in the corporate environment. Their clients include Hindustan Unilever, Accenture, Cisco, Bloomberg, Ikea, Lego, Philips, Disney and Genpact. Before commencing his journey with Potential Project India, Atul has a vast experience in the IT industry, in Capgemini and Wipro, with over 21 years of global business experience across consulting, solution design, sales leadership, account development, contracting, programme management and IT delivery.