The protection and promotion of human rights is a shared responsibility across all sectors of society, including government, business, and civil society. However, businesses and governments hold particular power and influence, and thus have significant duties in ensuring human rights are upheld.
Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights within their direct operations and across their global supply chains. All too often, the pursuit of profit leads businesses to exploit vulnerable workers or local communities, degrading human rights in the process. Multinational corporations in the apparel industry, for example, have faced heavy scrutiny for subjecting workers in developing countries to abusive and dangerous working conditions for little pay. Business activities can also negatively impact the livelihoods and health of communities when proper environmental and social protections are not in place.
Governments have an obligation to protect against human rights abuses by enacting and enforcing appropriate laws and regulations. This includes passing legislation prohibiting discrimination, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and more. Governments must also respect human rights within their own institutions and activities. State security forces in particular have been responsible for numerous human rights violations when excessive force is used or due process is denied. Corruption within government bureaucracies can further enable rights abuses to persist.
Ideally, governments and businesses should partner to create an economy where both prosperity and human rights protection can thrive. Governments can provide incentives for companies to uphold ethical practices, such as implementing human rights screenings in public procurement processes. Tax benefits could also be offered to corporations that demonstrate excellence in human rights performance.
At the same time, businesses can play a pivotal role in raising human rights standards by going beyond basic legal compliance. Responsible businesses should conduct rigorous human rights impact assessments for new projects and regularly audit their supply chains. Companies have the resources and expertise to identify risks, track key performance indicators, and implement corrective actions where gaps exist. Developing transparent and accountable internal governance structures and grievance mechanisms are also important.
Civil society organizations can support businesses in these efforts through trainings, workshops, and by conducting independent monitoring. Governments likewise need strong oversight and engagement from human rights groups and trade unions to push for better legislation and enforcement. Forming multi-stakeholder initiatives between government, business, and civil society can help build shared responsibility.
Ultimately, all sectors of society gain when human rights are protected. Businesses benefit from stability, consumer trust, and a better social license to operate in communities. Workers are more productive when their basic rights and freedoms are guaranteed. Governments see improved economic development outcomes when human rights risks are properly managed. Upholding human rights standards requires collective action across government, business, and society. With shared commitment and accountability, progress can be made towards a global economy grounded in human dignity and justice.