Human rights and business

Advice and Guidance

What is on this page?

The UN Guiding Principles

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England flag icon


    • |
    • Scotland flag icon


    • |
    • Wales flag icon


Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that protect us all. They are based on dignity, fairness, equality and respect. Businesses have a significant impact on the way we live our life and enjoy these human rights, whether it’s as an employee, a customer or simply living alongside companies that share our cities and towns.

When people think of human rights abuses associated with business activities they may think of sweatshops in foreign countries where child labour and unsafe working conditions are commonplace. Clearly, UK companies do need to pay close attention to their supply chains but businesses can affect people’s human rights in more subtle ways, at home and abroad. Companies with an online presence will need to make sure that they respect people’s right to privacy and uphold data protection laws, care home providers need to treat the people they look after with dignity and respect and all businesses have an obligation to ensure safe working conditions for their staff.

We’ve produced this short animation to show some of the ways business can affect people’s human rights and explain what is expected in doing business with respect for human rights.

The UN Guiding Principles

All businesses in the UK – large or small – have a responsibility to respect human rights. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) call upon businesses to make a public commitment to respect human rights, carry out human rights due diligence, and provide a remedy when things go wrong. Human rights due diligence is the process through which a company understands when, where and how it could have impacts on human rights, and prioritises these impacts for action. It identifies appropriate measures to mitigate risks, tracks the effectiveness of its efforts, and tells people about their progress.

The UK government has published a National Action Plan for implementing the UNGPs where they set out their expectation for UK companies to respect human rights wherever they operate. 

The business case

Aside from it being the right thing to, it also makes good business sense to respect human rights. Businesses can find themselves involved in lawsuits, suffering reputational harm and missing out on business opportunities and investments as well as the chance of recruiting the best new employees.

Last updated: 16 Aug 2019