The Evolving Human Rights Landscape

Publication Date27 August 2020
SubjectCorporate/Commercial Law, Government, Public Sector, Corporate and Company Law, Human Rights
Law FirmMayer Brown
AuthorMr Sam Eastwood, James Ford and Libby Reynolds

Top of the List

Best-in-class companies are already anticipating change by reviewing and refreshing their human rights programmes.

Navigating the constantly evolving human rights landscape is of paramount importance for companies.

There has been a marked rise in laws creating obligations on corporates to conduct human rights due diligence and report on associated risks in their supply chains. The announcement that the European Union is set to introduce its own due diligence law by 2021 reinforces this important trend. Companies should prepare for the upcoming legislative changes by reviewing their human rights and environment due diligence programmes and, in particular, should look beyond Tier One suppliers when assessing human rights risks in their supply chains.

There are also increasing expectations from key stakeholders - investors, shareholders and consumers alike - which are driving companies to increase their focus on responsible and sustainable business. These demands have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed human rights violations, leading to irreparable reputational damage, weakened investor confidence and diminished company value.

The associated increased focus on human rights impacts in supply chains, at both a national and international level, will only serve to accelerate the impetus towards wider mandatory human rights due diligence requirements. The emerging picture is that an effective human rights compliance programme is no longer a 'tick-box' exercise: it is an essential feature of a corporate risk management strategy. Human rights are not a topic that can be reserved for a company's Corporate Social Responsibility team, but should be at the top of the agenda for in-house lawyers, compliance professionals and indeed the company secretary and the board.

Business and Human Rights

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) (2011) were the first globally accepted voluntary standard holding businesses and governments accountable for adverse human rights impacts. Under the UNGPs, businesses have a responsibility to conduct effective human rights due diligence on their supply chains. The UNGPs have since influenced, and been integrated into, a number of international standards, such as the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and Due Diligence for Responsible Corporate Lending and Securities Underwriting, as well as industry specific guidance.

The move towards mandatory human rights due diligence is gathering pace. The French Duty of Vigilance Law came...

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