Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by The Danish Institute of Human Rights, Human Rights & Business Project


  1.  The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR, is an independent, national human rights institution modeled in accordance with the UN Paris Principles. The Institute, which was established by statute in 2002, pursues a legislative mandate originally vested in the Danish Centre for Human Rights in 1987. This encompasses research, education and the implementation of national and international human rights programmes.

  2.  Within DIHR, the Human Rights and Business Project (, which was established in 1999, with the support of the Danish government (DANIDA), the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI), and the Danish Industrialisation Fund for Developing Countries (IFU), is a non-profit entity dedicated to promoting business' compliance with human rights. To this end, the Human Rights and Business Project undertakes consultancy projects with corporate partners, develops tools and methodologies to help companies implement human rights, engages in capacity building partnership projects with a wide range of public and civil society actors internationally, and conducts strategic research on concepts of relevance to the field.


  3.  As regards our consultancy work, this primarily relates to international corporations. The Human Rights and Business Project is engaged by over a dozen of the Fortune 500 companies, and our approaches and tools have been applied in more than 200 additional companies, across the extractive, apparel, agriculture, pharmaceutical and financial sectors. The Human Rights and Business Project provides advice to a number of UK-based companies, such as Shell International. The range of services performed on a consultancy basis includes policy analysis, for instance, to evaluate internal policies and operating procedures for human rights compliance, site visits, country risk analysis and personnel training, for example, focusing on specific issues or functions (such as security).


  4.  A key resource for our consultancy work is the Human Rights Compliance Assessment (HRCA, see further, This tool, which takes the form of an online database, was developed over a six-year period in cooperation with 70 companies, 50 NGOs, 35 human rights experts and several major employer organisations and trade unions, across 14 European countries. The development process was engineered to ensure that the standards and indicators produced accurately embodied the relevant human rights law standards while also reflecting on-the-ground business realities. The HRCA is the most comprehensive and in-depth tool available for companies to check their performance on human rights. Using the HRCA, corporate managers or compliance officers can scrutinise company operations and policies, and benchmark company performance against a set of indicators based on more than 80 international human rights conventions and covering all internationally-recognised human rights. Currently over 500 businesses and other organizations in 59 countries around the world are currently registered users of one or more modules of the HRCA. Versions of the HRCA tailored to specific countries (eg South Africa, China), industry sectors, and human rights issues (eg company dormitories) have been developed, often in collaboration with local civil society and business partners. A number of further such adaptations are in development.

  5.  Currently the HRCA is being updated and reformatted, to incorporate feedback from company and institutional users worldwide, as well as developments in the business and human rights field since its inception. To be launched in August 2009, HRCA 2.0 will include facilities for individualization to each company user, according to industrial sector and geographical location of its operations, country risk matching (see further below) an incorporation of the tool into company IT platforms.

  6.  In addition, the Human Rights and Business Project's HRCA Quick Check (available at ) is a free of charge, condensed version of the full HRCA tool. The result of collaboration with a group of development finance institutes, the Quick Check includes approximately 10% of the questions contained in the HRCA database. Using it, companies can generate an overview of human rights risks across their operations.

  7.  A further project currently underway, in partnership with the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI) and the Danish Industrialisation Fund for Developing Countries (IFU), is the adaptation of the HRCA to generate a self-assessment tool for businesses with regard to the United Nations Global Compact's 10 Principles. When complete, this will result in a further free of charge tool for business, which will be made available via the UN Global Compact website.

  8.  Country Risk Assessments are another type of service provided to business by the Human Rights and Business Project. One insight acquired through 10 years' experience of working directly with the private sector is that understanding human rights risks in the context of the local operating environment is a key step in ensuring that company activities are compatible with the interests and needs of all local groups. Business actors' implication in human rights abuses can result from inadequate or ineffective legal regimes, weak standards or practices locally. The Human Rights and Business Project's Country Risk Assessments thus provide country-, region—and right-specific human rights information, with a focus on those risks and issues of greatest relevance to company operations. Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, constitutional and other provisions of national law, the Country Risk Assessment examines the likelihood of violations of each enumerated human right. Every right is rated high, medium or low risk according to the incidence and severity of violations reported and their likely proximity to companies. This evaluation is accompanied by due diligence recommendations for company personnel on how to prevent their own involvement in human rights abuses as well as how to mitigate the risk of complicity in human rights violations by third parties. High-risk issues—such as child labour, forced labour, discrimination or poor working conditions—are compiled into detailed Focal Areas to assist companies in focusing their management efforts.


  9.  The Human Rights and Business Project's international capacity building work has the objective of improving compliance with human rights standards of companies operating in developing countries, by promoting the capacity of local National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and NGOs to address human rights and business issues in the local context, while also strengthening cooperation and dialogue between local human rights groups and business leaders concerning corporate responsibility and human rights. Capacity building initiatives thus follow a partnership model. Local partners for collaboration and cooperation are first identified from amongst local human rights groups, business leaders or confederations, trade unions, universities and, if possible, host state governments. This is followed by training and capacity building of a local "focal point" for business and human rights issues, and awareness-raising through roundtables, seminars and training. A locally-adapted Human Rights Compliance Assessment may then be produced, including identification of high-risk human rights issues, new questions and indicators based on these risks, and contextualization with respect to relevant national and local legislative provisions. Locally-tailored versions of the HRCA tool can then be run through a pilot implementation process, where companies in cooperation with human rights NGOs test the tool in their operations, with feedback incorporated into a final version.


  10.  Our involvement in the formation of an International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions' Working Group on Business and Human Rights has recently added to a further strand to our capacity building work. In July 2008, the Danish Institute for Human Rights hosted in Copenhagen a Roundtable meeting of National Human Rights Institutions on Business and Human Rights. Fifteen National Human Rights Institutions, in addition to DIHR, were represented at the Roundtable (Canada, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Venezuela).

  11.  The Roundtable concluded that National Human Rights Institutions are uniquely placed to address the challenge of securing business' compliance with human rights in the context of global economic integration. Accordingly, it was agreed that National Human Rights Institutions ought to increase their focus on the human rights impacts of business operations as an element of their mandates, in concurrence with views stated by the United Nations' Secretary General's Special Representative on Business and Human Rights in his report submitted in July 2008 to the United Nations Human Rights Council. In its concluding Report ( roundtable_report .pdf , the Roundtable recommended the establishment of an International Co-Ordinating Committee (ICC) Working Group on Business and Human Rights. It also outlined current and potential future activities for NHRIs, first, in Strengthening Government Protection of Human Rights in the Corporate Sector and second, in Promoting Human Rights in the Corporate Sector.

  12.  That recommendation was taken up by the ICC during 2008, leading to the formation of a Steering Committee, comprising four NHRIs, to develop proposals for the formation of an ICC Working Group on Business and Human Rights. The Danish Institute for Human Rights was Co-ordinator of the Steering Committee, which developed proposals for the constitution of an ICC Working Group on Human Rights and its programme of work. On the basis of these proposals, the ICC decided by consensus at its meeting in March 2009, to establish a Business and Human Rights Working Group.

  13.  The ICC's four world regions have now each selected two of their member NHRIs to participate in the Business and Human Rights Working Group, so that the following will be represented: Denmark, Jordan, Kenya, Nicaragua, Scotland, South Korea, Togo and Venezuela. Canada, ex officio as the current Chair of the ICC, will also participate. The Working Group's first meeting will be held in Copenhagen in August 2009, to be hosted by DIHR. It is anticipated that, during this first meeting, a strategy and programme of work will be devised for the ICC Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

  14.  Discussions at that meeting will be informed by the Report of the 2008 Roundtable of NHRIs on Business and Human Rights, already mentioned above, as well as the report of the Side-Event to the 11th Session of the Human Rights Council, held on 5 June 2009 and organized by the ICC and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Engaging NHRIs in securing the promotion and protection of human rights in business". Comments made at this event, concerning the role of NHRIs regarding business and human rights and challenges for NHRIs in fulfilling this mandate, by Ms. Claire Methven O'Brien of the Human Rights and Business Project of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, by Lene Wenland of OHCHR, Commissioner Florence Simbiri-Jaoko of the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, Ms. Myriam Montrat of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Mr. Chris Avery, of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, are available at These presentations highlight the ongoing work by NHRIs across a number of jurisdictions, in both the global north and south, to promote compliance with human rights by corporate actors. This work spans, for example, efforts to address emergent issues arising from the growth in multi-national enterprises, and their activities, for example in Export Processing Zones (as in Kenya), as well as NHRIs historically well-established role in adjudicating or providing a forum for alternative dispute resolution, for example, in relation to claims of discrimination in employment.


  15.  A fourth and final limb of the Human Rights and Business Project's work on business and human rights contributes to the development of the field's conceptual framework through strategic research. Responding to the widely accepted need for greater clarity in relation to the definition of the scope and content of companies' human rights obligations to various stakeholders, research findings are communicated through a range of publications. Some of these, such as The Arc of Human Rights Priorities: A new model for Managing Business Risk, produced in conjunction with the UN Global Compact, and available at testing_version__1_june.pdf, and our series of Due Diligence Maps for Business (available at ), are created specifically for companies as guides to help them identify and address their responsibilities for human rights accurately and effectively. Other publications contribute to enhancing understanding of the business and human rights field more broadly, for instance, through in-depth consideration of specific issues raised in individual national contexts, such as the need to establish company level workers' representative mechanisms in jurisdictions where the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining may be curtailed by national law.


  16.  The Human Rights and Business Project of the Danish Institute for Human Rights welcomes the Joint Committee's Inquiry on Business and Human Rights. While activities conducted under the mandate of the United Nations Special Representative on Business and Human Rights are making an important contribution to debate at the international level concerning the definition of an appropriate conceptual and legal framework to address business' now undoubted responsibilities to comply with human rights standards, real and concrete progress demands that this is now supported by strong engagement on the part of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of individual states—both North and South. Furthermore, as indicated in this submission, National Human Rights Institutions also have a key role to play, not only in their traditional role as a monitor of state action (though this remains important, and should be interpreted as extending to issues relevant to the business and human rights agenda) but also through programmes of work focused directly on business actors, and the human rights risks which they inevitably encounter domestically and, in the context of today's trans-nationally integrated economic system, also extraterritorially.

June 2009

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Prepared 16 December 2009