Operationalize the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Business has a responsibility to respect human rights.

The Problem: Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the global community has agreed that every person has a right to be “free and equal in dignity and rights.” This includes, among other things, rights to health and well-being, to favorable work conditions, and to freely engage in political, economic and cultural life. Yet large populations still lack these basic human rights, and legal frameworks and their enforcement remain uneven.

The Solution: The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, providing an authoritative global standard for preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts linked to business activities. The Principles state that, while the state always has the primary duty to protect human rights, companies have a responsibility to respect human rights which requires that they:

  • Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities and address such impacts when they occur.

  • Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.

The Business Case

  • It’s a risk management strategy. Businesses that understand human rights impacts up and down their company and supply chain are better able to manage and mitigate operational and reputational risks related to human rights.

  • It’s cheaper to prevent than to cure. Proper management of human rights minimizes the costs incurred by businesses when adverse human rights impacts occur, including operational disruptions, litigation and lost opportunities. These potential costs outweigh the expenses of implementing human rights policies and monitoring mechanisms.

  • It levels the playing field. Tackling human rights issues at scale improves operations in high-risk areas, reinforces the license to operate and provides the foundation for a stronger, more efficient business environment.

  • It reinforces corporate values. Demonstrating company commitment to respecting human rights leads to better engagement with stakeholders, from investors and regulators, to employees, civil society and communities.

  • It’s a competitive advantage. Companies gain competitive advantage by implementing human rights policies and due diligence methods ahead of regulation.



Advocate for action

Advocate for companies within WBCSD membership and beyond to embed the UN Guiding Principles within their operations and track progress through Action2020.

Capture, highlight, disseminate and advocate solutions

Gather the barriers faced by companies in implementing the UN Guiding Principles and share solutions to these barriers to scale up further adoption. Importantly, applying a multi-sectoral lens will build awareness, drive uptake and encourage collaboration across industries.

Build partnerships

Facilitate partnerships to avoid duplication of any valuable work already ongoing and to strengthen companies’ efforts.


  • State action. Governments need to meet their obligations to respect and protect human rights, and to provide access to appropriate and effective remedy when rights are breached. Governments also need to set clear expectations for business to respect human rights.

  • Partnership. Global and local partnerships can lend credibility and support to companies implementing human rights policies, due diligence, and access to remedy.

  • Leadership. Raising the awareness and commitment levels of business leaders is essential to drive the resource allocation and capacity building necessary to operationalize the Guiding Principles.

Requirements & Standards


The Principles clearly outline the following requirements, which enable companies to “know and show” that they are respecting human rights:

  • A policy commitment to meet their responsibility to respect human rights.

  • A human rights due-diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights.

  • Processes to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute.


The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are now reflected in:

  • OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

  • ISO 26000 Social Responsibility Standard.

  • IFC Performance Standards.

  • EU Commission request for national implementation plans.

  • UK Governments Action Plan and changes to the Corporate Act.

Relevant priority areas