Human Rights and Corporate Compliance

Human Rights and Corporate Compliance

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January 11, 2016

Today marks the annual observance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. In support of this campaign, today’s TRACE Trends post addresses human trafficking as a human rights violation. We encourage you to share this post with your network to raise awareness of human trafficking. 

Mass murders, child soldiers, a crackdown on the press and protests – this is what comes to mind as human rights violations. But what encompasses human rights is extraordinarily broad, and includes the right not to be held in slavery or servitude. There are seven conventions covering human rights, including the two main conventions on human rights: the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Companies thus face risks of violating human rights in every country and in every industry.

Lawsuits and government investigations into alleged human rights violations can be costly for companies. For example, Odebrecht, one of the largest engineering firms in Brazil, was convicted by Brazilian authorities of engaging in human trafficking and slave labor conditions in Angola during the construction of a biofuel plant and ordered to pay 50 million reais (USD $13 million) in damages.

Companies can reduce their risk by familiarizing themselves with the human rights conventions. However, just as important is understanding the United Nations Framework of “Protect, Respect and Remedy,” and the Guiding Principles for implementing the Framework. The Framework clarifies the responsibilities of governments and businesses in upholding human rights: Governments have a duty to protect their citizens from human rights abuses committed by third parties, businesses have a responsibility to avoid violating human rights and to address violations that occur, and victims of business-related human rights violations should have access to an effective remedy.

The Guiding Principles are meant to help implement the Framework, providing a roadmap for companies on respecting human rights, including understanding what are human rights, putting in place human rights policies, and creating a due diligence process focused on prevention and processes to remediate any possible violations.

Being familiar with human rights and the UN Framework and Guiding Principles is a crucial first step in reducing the risk of human rights violations. Armed with this knowledge, companies can more easily adapt to the challenges they face no matter where they operate. 

To help raise employee awareness of this issue, companies may wish to train staff regularly. TRACE’s Avoiding Trafficked Labor online training module is free for TRACE Member Companies. Please write to [email protected] to request a demo account.

For more on this topic, please see the following resources:

Human Trafficking Update: 2 Ways to Navigate the New Legal Landscape
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
What Does Human Trafficking Look Like?
Human Trafficking in Supply Chains

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