Business and human rights refers to the private sector’s respect or otherwise for universal human rights. Human rights are a set of basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’ Article 31 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia makes this Universal Declaration and other binding human rights instruments part of Cambodian law.
According to the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights (SRSG), John Ruggie, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights. While it is important to understand that businesses are capable of violating all human rights and that they must therefore ensure that all human rights are respected in their operations, some human rights are of more relevance to businesses. They include: the right to freedom of assembly and association; the right to freedom of expression; the abolition of slavery and forced labour; the abolition of child labour; the right to equal pay for equal work; the right to equality at work; the right to non-discrimination; the right to just and favourable remuneration; and the right of indigenous peoples to possession of ancestral lands and resources.
Understandably, the primary objective of businesses is the maximisation of profit margins, and human rights have traditionally been considered outside the ambit of the private sector. Nonetheless, the adoption of a human rights policy can be beneficial for businesses:
- The business case. Adopting a human rights policy can: dramatically improve a businesses’s reputation, leading to increased sales, improved ‘licence to operate’ and increased shareholder satisfaction; raise worker satisfaction and therefore productivity, and make it easier for a business to retain the best staff; ensure an early mover advantage, securing the same advantages as those in the vanguard of the environmental awareness movement 10 years ago.
- The moral case. Human rights are universal. They are to be guaranteed to all human beings. Businesses are capable of violating - and have violated - all recognized human rights. For this reason, there is a heavy moral obligation on private sector actors to ensure respect for human rights. Simply, it is the right thing to do.
- The legal case. SRSG Ruggie has developed a tripartite framework to govern business and human rights. It posits: 1) that states have a duty to protect human rights; 2) that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights; and 3) that there must be recourse to adequate and effective remedies if disputes arise. To respect human rights essentially means not to infringe on the rights of others - put simply, to do no harm. The responsibility to respect is a baseline expectation, therefore a company cannot compensate for human rights harm by performing good deeds elsewhere. The responsibility to respect also includes avoiding complicity. Complicity refers to indirect involvement by companies in human rights abuses - where the actual harm is committed by another party in a business’s supply chain, including governments and non-state actors.
SRSG Ruggie suggests that businesses adopt a due diligence process - similar to financial due diligence – to ensure respect for human rights. This involves:
- Developing a company policy which stipulates a commitment to respecting human rights
- Completing proactive human rights impact assessments
- Tracking human rights performance by monitoring and auditing ongoing developments
- Providing effective remedies in the case of disputes
- Entering into a voluntary human rights ombudsman regime
In order to ensure respect for human rights in their operations, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights encourages businesses to integrate the above mechanisms for the protection of human rights into company policy, and to ensure that such policy is put into practice.
CCHR is aiming to work constructively with the Royal Government of
Cambodia, other NGOs and civil society in general, as well as with all
kinds of businesses from the private sector, in order to improve
respect for human rights within businesses' day-to-day operations and
policies. The eventual target beneficiaries will be not only the
current victims of human rights abuses, such as poorly paid factory
workers, sex workers, victims of land evictions, isolated unionists,
and so on, but also the businesses themselves: the message that CCHR is
aiming to spread is that respect for human rights is not only a moral
obligation and a legal requirement, but also pays dividends in terms of
bottom line profit. A cultural change is needed; CCHR has kickstarted
the dialogue in Cambodia and is now working hard to accelerate the