Fabian Demicoli

My Business and human rights: A guide to human rights for SMEs

The
European Commission has recently published a guide to human rights for SMEs
which you will find attached to this email. This guidebook aims to give SME
entrepreneurs guidance on how to address and minimise risks related to possible
human rights violations that can occur within a company or in its relations
with other businesses, e.g. suppliers. The guide is based on the UN Guiding
Principles on Business and Human Rights and translates these principles into
the context of European SMEs.

So what exactly are the UN Guiding Principle on
Business and Human Rights?

The
UN Guiding Principles define what governments and businesses should do in order
to avoid and address negative impacts on human rights by businesses. This guide
focuses on what is expected of businesses. The UN Guiding Principles give all
businesses – small and large – the recipe for what it takes to respect human rights.

What kind of enterprise is this guide for?

This
guide has been written for small and medium sized enterprises in the European
Union.  All enterprises, from small and
medium-sized enterprises through to large multinational corporations, have a
responsibility to respect human rights.

But what are human rights?

Human
rights are the rights we are entitled to simply because we are human beings.
They represent the universally agreed minimum conditions that enable all people
to maintain their dignity. Human rights are inherent to all of us, whatever our
nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour,
religion, language, or any other status.

I manage a company, so why should I take an
interest in human rights?

Like most managers, you probably aim to treat your employees and
customers respectfully. By actively dealing with human rights, you can make
sure that this is the case. It's an opportunity to make sure your business puts
people first and is a business you can be truly proud of.

So will respecting human rights make my
business more profitable?

Increasingly
the answer is yes, but not always and maybe not immediately. Dealing explicitly
with human rights can function as a radar or early-warning system. It enables
you to identify potential problems and to resolve them before they become more
serious and more costly. A human rights focus may also improve customer
relations and reputation, and enhance employees' job satisfaction, with a
positive impact on productivity and efficiency. It may help you to avoid
additional costs associated with attracting and keeping the right staff,
gaining permits or dealing with public opposition to new business ideas you may
have. Avoiding and addressing negative human rights impacts can also inspire innovative
solutions and improvements that help you to be a stronger, more resilient
business. The bottom line is that you have a responsibility to respect human
rights whether or not it brings financial benefits to your business.

My company complies with the law. Isn't that enough?

If
you are operating in the EU and you comply with the law, you will usually have
come a long way towards ensuring that you do not negatively impact human
rights. For example, complying with health and safety regulation helps you to
avoid negative impacts on the right to life, the right to a safe work
environment and the right to physical and mental health.

Can I deal with human rights within my existing
management processes and systems?

Often
you should be able to respect human rights by adjusting existing processes and
systems. For example, if you carry out risk analyses you may be able to expand
them to include identification of your risks of negative impacts on human
rights. You may also have in place management systems to help you handle health
and safety, environmental impacts or quality more efficiently. Such systems can
be used to help you avoid and address possible negative human rights impacts.

Am I expected to do this on my own?

Yes
and no. The responsibility is yours, but you will probably find it useful to
collaborate with others and benefiting from lessons learned. The authorities
will guide you and support you in your initiatives.

 

Human
Rights considerations in you own activities

1. When you recruit employees…

  • Do
    you consider only competences and experiences when assessing who to hire?
  • Do
    you ask only for information that is relevant for the job to be fulfilled?
  • Do
    you make reasonable accommodations to allow employees with disabilities to have
    job opportunities with your business?
  • Do
    you keep private information about the applicants safely stored?

 

 

 

 

2. Once you have recruited employees and they are working for you…

  • Do
    you encourage a work environment in which people respect each other?
  • Do
    you have measures in place to avoid and combat discrimination in the workplace?
  • Do
    you take measures to protect employees from incidents of bullying, sexual
    harassment and other kinds of harassment, either from other employees or from
    outsiders such as customers, vendors and clients?
  • Do
    you ensure that wages are paid on a regular basis, and in a timely manner?

 

 

3. When setting salaries and deciding
who to promote…

  • Do
    you ensure equal pay for equal work or for work of equal value?
  • Do
    you increase wages and provide benefits based on objective factors avoiding
    discrimination?
  • Do
    you ensure fair and transparent promotion and career development opportunities?
  • If
    your business employs low-skilled, migrant or seasonal labour, do you know that
    the overall income received by the workers concerned is adequate for their
    basic needs to be met, taking account of any additional wage support that may
    be provided by the state?

 

 

 

4. When one of your employees gets pregnant or has a pregnant spouse…

  • Do
    you alter work plans of such employees in light of the maternity or paternity?
  • Do
    you brief your employees on how to manage and act in relation to pregnancy of
    colleagues?
  • Do
    you make sure that you don't discriminate pregnant employees or young women
    e.g. in connection to
  • recruitment
    or promotion?

 

 

 

5. If you advertise products…

  • Do
    you avoid reinforcing prejudices and stigmatising people or groups in your
    advertisements?
  • Do
    you have a channel for feedback in place allowing the public to comment on your
    advertisements?

 

 

6. If you sell products directly to
consumers…

  • Is
    consumer information securely stored and do consumers know how you will use
    such information?
  • Do
    you provide clear instructions for use of and warnings about hazardous
    products?

 

 

7. If your employees work under highly stressful conditions…

  • Do
    you pay extra attention to employees' well-being in times of particular stress
    and pressure?
  • Do
    you create an open atmosphere where employees feel confident in talking about
    stress or stress related symptoms?

 

 

8. If your employees work with
harmful substances…

  • Do
    you ensure that your employees have instructions and receive training on how to
    handle the substances
  • and
    what to do if accidents occur?
  • Do
    you ensure employee access to first aid equipment?
  • Do
    you regularly conduct inspections to ensure that health and safety requirements
    are fulfilled?

 

 

 

9. If your business uses machinery or
vehicles…

  • Are
    the machines or vehicles used in your business safe to operate, and do you regularly
    check their safety features?
  • Are
    all employees using machinery or vehicles adequately trained and authorised to
    operate them?

 

 

For
further information:
http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sustainable-business/corporate-social-responsibility/human-rights/

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