Businesses possess the capital, jobs, infrastructure and new technology necessary to help reshape the development landscape for the better. To achieve this, corporate leaders must focus on creating shared value and avoiding human rights risks.
The international business and human rights framework, especially the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, should be the starting point for this.
I have worked with businesses throughout my legal career and now advise companies on their approach to human rights. Driven by evolving consumer, employee, investor and regulatory expectations, companies are realising that by ensuring they make a positive impact on society and the environment they can also secure their own sustainable growth.
Many businesses are already doing this. For example, having identified commercial opportunities in Myanmar, Coca-Cola dedicated time and money to produce an industry-leading report on how responsible investment should best be made in the country. Independent specialists and auditors contributed to an in-depth assessment of the risks of doing business in this developing and under-regulated market. Human rights assessments were integral and their findings resulted in positive action, such as closing the traditional gender pay gap and addressing concerns about plants discharging contaminated water.
This analysis and reporting was possible in large part because Coca-Cola conducted its human rights due diligence in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The SDGs themselves refer to the Guiding Principles as an example of international standards that should be followed to help realise its goals. This is welcome news as the private sector needs guidance and common standards if it is to make a concerted and unified push for sustainable development.
The SDGs and the responsibility to respect human rights go to the heart of a business’s social licence to operate, especially in emerging markets. It is clear that the SDG agenda cannot succeed without the private sector. For all of our sakes and for future generations, I hope that companies engage with the SDGs and build respect for human rights into the fabric of their businesses and commercial strategies, and in this way play their part in championing the human right to development.