Human Rights Day

10/12/2015, Martina Macpherson

Today is Human Rights Day - held on 10 December every year to promote the rights and freedoms of people across the globe.

The annual event marks the adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone document in the history of human rights – which includes 30 basic rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948.

The concept of human rights is said to have originated some 2,500 years ago in modern-day Iraq. King Cyrus the Great freed slaves, established racial equality and the right to religious choice. Nowadays, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world and available in 370 languages.

Human rights have become well embedded into EU and UK legislation (see e.g. the  European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act 1998 and most recently the Modern Slavery Act 2015) – and are making their way into civil society and business activities in many ways.

In 2011, the UN declared internet access a basic human right. And in the same year, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a new set of Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights designed to provide, for the first time, a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. Initiatives such as the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (2016) and Know the Chain (2016) and will help to identify and assess human rights performance and controversies – within corporations and their supply chain.

However, many human rights challenges remain – here just a few:

In her speech delivered at the Foreign Office’s International Human Rights Day reception on 9th December 2015, Baroness Anelay strongly disagreed with the view that we are failing to hold countries to account on human rights. Instead, she called for ‘human rights mainstreaming’ with international partners to build more awareness and understanding for the issues at a global (political) level.

A multi-stakeholder approach involving policy makers (and newly established government bodies such as the UK’s Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner), business representatives, NGOs and other civil society groups (such as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty International, Humanity United, Verite, the Environmental Justice Foundation, the CORE coalition, ECCR, Stop the Traffik, SHIFT, GBI and many more) is probably the right route – and this approach is in line with  how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was finally agreed more than 50 years ago…

So time to think again – and time to identify human rights risks and align human rights objectives. And for the journey, here are The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB)’s Top 10 Human Rights Issues for 2016:

  1. Battling Discrimination: Sustained Business Action Key to Valuing Diverse Societies
  2. Sustaining Momentum: Bold Leadership to Combat Forced Labour and Human Trafficking
  3. Embracing Remedy: From ‘Forgotten Pillar’ to Key Tool in Identifying, Monitoring and Preventing Impacts
  4. Big Data, Big Business: Raising Awareness of Rights Implications and Ensuring Protections
  5. Leading by Example: Aligning States’ Policies and Implementing Due Diligence as Economic Actors
  6. Righting Climate Wrongs: Business, Human Rights and Climate Justice
  7. Mind the Gap: Implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  8. Defending Defenders: A Role for Business in Championing Civil Society
  9. From Theory to Practice: New Levels of Human Rights Transparency and Measuring Corporate Performance
  10. Rising to the Occasion: Making 2016 an Olympic Year for Human Rights and Mega-Sporting Events