Businesses that fail to respect human rights can suffer reputational harm, operational delays and an inability to recruit the top talent.
Rather than risk such adverse impacts, business leaders should take the opportunity to secure their futures and safeguard their brands by adopting progressive human rights policies.
That is the message from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which has published Business and Human Rights: A Five Step Guide for Company Boards.
Step one, it said, is to embed the responsibility to respect human rights into a company’s culture, knowledge and practices. The board should ensure that at least one of its members has business and human rights expertise and/or should appoint a human rights champion.
Directors should be familiar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation’s core conventions, as well as the standard of conduct for business set out in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted by the United Nations.
Secondly, directors should identify and understand any risks to human rights that the company might pose and then — thirdly — should systematically address and remedy the most severe ones.
The fourth step is to engage with staff, supply chain workers, union representatives, local communities and other interested parties to understand their perspectives on — and concerns about — human rights risks.
Finally, companies are advised to publicly explain how they meet their commitment to respect human rights and to demonstrate that reasonable steps are being taken to address any risks identified.
Launching the guide, Caroline Waters, EHRC Deputy Chairwoman, said: "Human rights make business sense. Companies that make human rights a cornerstone of their operations thrive — with their reputation enhanced."