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Human Rights Due Diligence: Can My Business Start By Focusing On One Or A Few Human Rights?

Submitted by: Lise Smit

Posted: Jul 01, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Human Rights: A Rainbow of Challenges

Tags: human rights, business


This is the most recent article in our series on Human Rights & Equality. For more articles, go to

Businesses embarking on human rights due diligence for the first time often assume that they need to focus only on those human rights which are associated with risks in their particular sector. For example, information technology companies may only concern themselves with privacy rights, or pharmaceutical companies may view the right to health to be their most important focal point.

It is true that certain issues are closely associated with certain sectors. For example, the garment industry is often linked to concerns over unsafe working conditions, whereas extractive companies frequently face allegations relating to private security, land grabs and environmental damage. These connotations are reinforced through headline-making court cases or tragic events such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

However, it is unwise to choose only one human right and exclude the others from the due diligence process. Human rights are interrelated and often go hand-in-hand. One over-arching issue, such as land acquisition, potentially affects many different human rights, including the right to property, health, life, water, cultural heritage, education, housing, and the right of access to information.

Human rights also often need to be balanced against one another, otherwise a business may inadvertently impact on one human right in an attempt to respect another. For example, where pharmaceutical companies require patients to show proof of identification and residency in an effort to provide affordable medicine to patients in certain countries only, this may have implications for the right to freedom of movement, as well as migrants’ and refugees’ rights, none of which are ordinarily associated with the pharmaceutical industry.

By focusing only on one, a business may overlook other human rights risks, and end up encountering the consequences it intended to avoid in the first place. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights recognise the need to prioritise certain human rights risks, depending on factors such as severity, but to prioritise certain rights over others, all human rights risks first need to be identified and mapped. A human rights due diligence process which zones in on only certain human rights from the outset is destined to fail in its objective.

In order to respect human rights, one must be able to identify all types of human rights risks, and to do so one needs to know what the various internationally recognised human rights are. This includes knowing the list of rights, which are mainly contained in a handful of internationally recognised documents, as well as understanding what each individual right entails and which aspects of daily life it protects.

In the same way that conducting other forms of corporate due diligence requires technical expertise and training – whether in finance, auditing, safety standards, or other compliance requirements – human rights due diligence should be done by persons with human rights training. This applies not only to the lawyers involved in the process, but to all company persons in charge of identifying and managing human rights risks when and where they arise, such as managers and supply chain and procurement officers. 

The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) is presenting its course on Human Rights for Business People on 8 September 2015. It provides training to business people on identifying and addressing human rights risks in a business context. BIICL is an independent applied research organisation, with years of experience and expertise in training varied audiences globally on business and human rights.

To read more or sign up for the course, click here. To enquire about a bespoke training session for your business, email Lise Smit.

This is the most recent article in our series on Human Rights & Equality. For more articles, go to

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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