If your company works on the international market and has foreign clients and suppliers, it is very likely that you have filled out company questionnaires about the working conditions you have provided for your employees and workers.
Do not be afraid of the human rights issue, even if it sounds complicated and beyond your knowledge.
Given that, most likely, your company is operating in Europe, the working conditions that you need to provide in order to remain in business on the free market have already been set to a high enough standard.
Exactly what are human rights?
Simply said, human rights include a broad set of rules which determine how we should treat one another in the society we live in.
Human rights include a wide range of rights related to political life and freedom, such as the right to equality and the right of free speech. Another part includes rights related to quality of life and well-being – the right to work, the right of food, the right of health care, etc.
The ethical principles and social norms of human rights are clearly defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Additionally, other official documents have been written such as Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In 2011, the United Nations Council unanimously adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Why do we need to know about human rights?
The times we live in are marked by information technology advances. Companies are growing faster and look for the most effective processes to reduce their direct expenses and become more competitive.
As a result of these dynamics and strong competitiveness, many companies fail to provide good working conditions, meet social requirements, and respect the human rights of their employees and contractors.
Manufacturing companies affect the environment in local villages and need to take responsibility for the way they process wastewater or store production waste.
This is becoming more and more important to the consumers and partners of a company, who often make the effort to check if a company is respecting human rights. Companies need to be aware of who they partner with and the working conditions and environmental footprint their partners leave behind.
The Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility
Every day, society and business require companies to have clearly defined principles of social responsibility. Over the past decades, nobody cared and required companies to be held responsible for what their supplier’s working conditions are, nor how the supplier’s business impacts the quality of life of the local population.
Nowadays, we observe a worldwide tendency for companies to require that their partners are certified in various aspects of human rights and environmental protection. It is clear that companies that fail to apply the principles and norms of human rights lose their competitiveness.
Serious consequences for the company’s reputation and losses in financial terms can be brought by a single work accident of a major supplier who does not provide good working conditions. This is especially true for prestigious and international brands.
This was the case with the Rana Plaça textile factory in Bangladesh. In April 2013 the factory building collapsed, killing more than 1,300 low-paid workers.
Rana Plaza is a supplier to many popular Western fashion companies whose brands have been blackened and accused because of the event.
As a result of this horrific incident, mass inspections of the labour and safety conditions have changed the textile industry in Bangladesh, which is s central gross domestic product of the country with revenues of $24 billions a year.
International companies of all sizes seeking long-term sustainability, must be able to measure the social and environmental impact they have and analyze the extent to which they contribute to the well-being of people and their environment.
Consumers and investors need to be regularly informed or have easy access to information about the company’s activities related to environmental protection and working conditions.
Compliance with the law, decent work and environmental protection are all different ways of respecting human rights
What is the difference between human rights and corporate social responsibility?
The main difference between respect for human rights and corporate social responsibility is that human rights are established and supported by the international community and protected by a wide range of legal instruments. On the other hand, each company is free to determine and decide what it means “sustainable” for their business and how it can be applied in the development strategy.
Whether we talk about human rights or social responsibility, it is important for the company to identify the social and environmental impact it creates and engage with the people whose lives are affected.
Nevertheless, the good news is that companies around the world always find a way to react to investor and consumer pressure and take measures to address their social impact.
Today, the senior management team does not ask, “Can we afford to respect human rights?” But rather “Can we allow ourselves NOT to respect human rights?”
People should not forget that behind every successful company are men and women. Nowadays, we talk more about Human to Human Relationship instead of Business to Business. As a result of the global application of human rights and government regulations, more and more companies are improving their operational processes to make the day-to-day life of their employees and suppliers better.