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How to Develop a Human Rights Policy

This foundational resource walks companies through the process of committing to respect human rights: developing a human rights policy.

November 2015 | UN Global Compact | Pages: 36

Why should a company develop a human rights policy? Who needs to be involved? What does the policy need to include? This guide takes readers step-by-step through the creation of a human rights policy and includes analysis of existing company policies.

The summary is excerpted from the resource.

What is a human rights policy?

It is a company’s public expression of its commitment to meet its responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights standards. At a minimum, this means the rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Why develop a human rights policy?

A human rights policy shows that a company understands its responsibility to respect human rights. It also:

  • Provides a basis for embedding the responsibility to respect human rights through all business functions
  • Responds to relevant stakeholder expectations
  • Identifies policy gaps and initiate a process that alerts the company to new areas of human rights risk
  • Elaborates on the company’s commitment to respect and support human rights
  • Builds increased trust with external stakeholders and to start to understand and address their concerns
  • Fosters the development of in-house learning, management capacity and leadership on human rights issues
  • Demonstrates international good business practice

Key steps – the process behind the policy

Developing a human rights policy can be a dynamic, though not always a predictable process. Do not expect perfection at first. Many companies update their policies as they gain experience with identifying and addressing their human rights impacts.

  • Assign senior management responsibility to drive the process
  • Involve cross-functional personnel (human resources, legal, procurement, security, etc.) in the process to build understanding, know-how and a sense of common purpose Identify and draw on internal and/or external human rights expertise
  • Map existing company policies to identify human rights coverage and gaps
  • Conduct a basic mapping of the company’s key potential human rights impacts
  • Consult internal and external stakeholders to identify and respond to their expectations
  • Communicate the policy internally and externally
  • Reflect human rights policy in operational policies and procedures

What are the key components of a human rights policy?

All policies – whether stand-alone or integrated – should at a minimum comprise:

  • An explicit commitment to respect all internationally recognized human rights standards – understood, at a minimum, as the International Bill of Rights and the ILO’s Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
  • Stipulations concerning the company’s expectations of personnel, business partners and other relevant parties
  • Information on how the company will implement its commitment.

It may also contain:

  • An overview of the steps taken to develop the policy
  • Information on the company’s key human rights priority areas
  • A description of how the company will deal with conflicts between international human rights principles and applicable host-government legal requirements
  • A commitment by the company to “support” (i.e. contribute to the positive realization of) human rights
  • A summary of those human rights (including labour rights and others) that the business recognizes as likely to be the most salient for its operations and information on how it will account for its actions to meet its responsibility to respect human rights.
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