Human Rights Are Everyone’s Business
Human rights are everyone’s business, and every business has a critical role to play in ensuring fair, safe, and equitable workplaces not only across global supply chains, but also – as we’re learning this week in the wake of President Trump’s immigration ban – within corporate walls.
For decades now, multi-nationals have been taking steps to protect the basic human rights of workers in their global supply chains, but have not always recognized a similar need in their own operations. Yet internationally recognized human rights standards like the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights do not differentiate based on geography. They call on companies to respect human rights in direct operations and across their value chains, no matter where they operate.
To do this, companies must establish formal human rights policies aligned with international standards, conduct regular human rights due diligence assessments to assess, measure, and mitigate risks, and disclose management systems in place for implementation.
But those are just the beginning. To effectively advance human rights – by translating policies preventing discrimination, child and forced labor and unsafe working conditions from words on paper to corporate cultures that truly embrace principles of diversity and inclusion, freedom and human dignity – requires bold leadership and a willingness to speak out when those rights are threatened.
Recently many iconic American companies have spoken out against legislation that would limit gay and transgender rights, and for swift action to address pay disparity and lack of diversity within their industries. We’ve also just witnessed Apple, Google, Nike, and others speak out on the ramifications of President Trump’s recent executive order severely restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries while giving special exceptions to Christians traveling from those countries.
Tech companies, which are hugely reliant on highly skilled immigrants, were especially outspoken in opposing the immigration ban. “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do,” Apple CEO Tim Cook, wrote to his employees. Nike Chairman and CEO Mark Parker expressed broader concerns. “Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from or who you love, everyone’s individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole,” Parker said in a staff email.
Whether it’s Nike or Apple on immigration, or earlier business boycotts in North Carolina and Indiana on other social issues, business has a clear leadership role to play. It can use the power of its voice and its influence to respect and protect the basic human rights of workers from executive offices to factory floors and fields. Now is not the time to stay silent.
Amy Augustine co-leads the corporate program at the nonprofit sustainability group Ceres and specializes in human rights issues.