EU Commission Assists Companies with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The EU Commission has recently published Guides for companies involved in Employment and Recruitment, ICT and Oil and Gas to help implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPBHR”) in those sectors.

The EU Guides are not binding but should provide companies with useful assistance. The Guides are intended for EU businesses wherever they operate.  They acknowledge that a “one size fits all” approach to human rights in the business context will not work well and that different sectors have different issues and risks.

Given that they are a very clear statement of best practice, the EU Guides could also be useful to non-EU businesses wishing to meet the highest standards in respect of UNGPBHR.

The UNGPBHR was endorsed in 2011 and calls on all businesses to respect human rights, avoid infringing human rights and, where infringement occurs, to provide redress. It applies directly to businesses of any size or type and wherever they are located or operating. It applies not only to a company’s own activities but also to the activities of its business relationships. It further requires States to set out clearly that businesses operating in their territory should respect human rights.  The UNGPBHR sets up a framework for compliance by business which includes clear policy statements, due diligence on the business’s own activities, risk assessments, monitoring and reporting at senior level, external communication including to shareholders and a commitment to taking remedial action wherever a breach is found.

Employment and Recruitment Agencies

The EU Guide notes that Employment and Recruitment Agencies are active in a wide range of business sectors. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of the agency model to both business and worker, the Guide recognises and encourages agencies to protect against the particular risk to human rights violations that the model can give rise to.  It provides a useful analytical framework for assessing the impact of various business activities on a range of likely stakeholders and a method for implementing the UN Guiding Principles tailored for the sector.   

Information and Communication Technology

This EU Guide focusses on businesses and activities ranging from telecommunications and web-based services, through software to component manufacturing. It describes the ICT sector as a “complex ecosystem” which has played an important role in promoting human rights through such things a mobile banking and remote learning. This Guide also provides an analytical risk framework and a structure for implementing the Guiding Principles.   

Oil and Gas Sector

The last EU Guide concentrates on upstream activities of O&G companies throughout the project lifecycle from pre-feasibility, through feasibility, development (including construction), implementation (including production), to decommissioning and post-closure. It therefore also focuses on the business actors involved in those activities, whether on-shore or off-shore, including international O&G companies, national O&G companies, joint ventures, exploration companies, pipeline companies, oil service companies and other contractors.  This Guide adopts the same approach as the other two, identifying specialist risks and encouraging a tailored approach.