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Business dragging its feet on human rights and investors are watching, say UN experts

Business & human rights

16 October 2018


New York (16 October 2018) – Too many companies globally are ignoring their human rights responsibilities and governments are failing to regulate and lead by example in business practices, a group of independent UN experts says.

A report* by the experts urges business to exercise ‘human rights due diligence’ to comply with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights** and recommends ways states – in their roles as regulators as well as owners, investors, trade promoters and buyers – and investors should fix shortcomings.

“Human rights due diligence is about preventing negative impacts on people,” said Dante Pesce, who chairs the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. “Basically it involves identifying risks to people across the value chain, being transparent about those risks and taking action to prevent or remedy them. To be meaningful it needs to be informed by real stakeholder engagement, in particular with communities, human rights and environmental defenders and trade unions.”

“Making progress in tackling adverse business-related impacts on people’s rights and dignity is a critical and urgent issue,” Mr. Pesce said. “In fact, ensuring that human rights are respected across their own activities and value chains, is the most significant contribution most companies can make towards sustainable development.”

The group’s report, presented to the United Nations General Assembly today, found that more investors were scrutinising and pressuring companies to manage human rights risks and prevent abuses, but also that more investors should join the trend.

The report revealed a few companies in various industries are leading the way, but most businesses seem unaware of their human rights responsibility or unwilling to implement human rights due diligence. On government performance, the expert group found a few promising legal and policy developments, but also that more action is needed.

“In spite of an overall picture of slow progress, the good news is that human rights due diligence can be done,” Mr. Pesce said. “Numerous tools and resources are available and business enterprises can no longer cite a lack of knowledge as an excuse for inaction. They just need to get started, and investors and governments should push them along. Evidence is clearly suggesting that doing the right thing is also the smart thing to do.”


Business respect for human rights and human rights due diligence in practice is the focus of this year’s United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, due to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 26 to 28 November.


* See the executive summary of the report  and the Working Group’s thematic page on human rights due diligence.

** The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected by governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.

The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (know as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights) was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 to promote worldwide dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Working Group is composed of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation. Its current members are: Mr. Dante Pesce (Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Githu Muigai, and Ms.Anita Ramasastry. The Working Group and Special Rapporteursare part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

For further information and media requests, please write to [email protected] or contact Ulrik Halsteen (+41 22 917 93 23).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit ([email protected]

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: