The story of human rights (and business) for beginners

Guest blog by Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, business law and human rights specialist

Talking with Mary has given me a new perspective on some perennial debates. Discussion of human rights, for example, is rare in today’s data-driven business environments, yet hot topics such as corruption and workplace discrimination are matters of human rights as much as anything else. So I invited Mary to do a guest blog on my website to talk a little more about business and human rights. Here’s the result!

Once upon a time (and this has happened more than once in the history of mankind) the world lived the terrible tragedy of war. Many people died in the 20th Century and between 60 to 80 million people died in World War II alone. Children were left without parents; parents lost their children; cities were destroyed and memories lost forever. This was a terrible moment in the history of our civilisation.

But out of that pain and destruction came the need and hope for a better world. The need for human beings to treat each other with respect, the need for rules and regulations to ensure that the horrors suffered by so many people would never happen again. Therefore a set of fundamental principles were drafted by a committee who came from different countries and beliefs. The result was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was enacted in 1948. This precious declaration has been translated into 500 languages and it contains the fundamental rules on how human beings should treat one another and live together.

It is clear that the UDHR is a set of principles that we should teach our children about and base our lives on, right? So a number of questions come to mind:

Question 1: — Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights taught in all school curricula?

Answer: — Not to my knowledge.

Question 2: — Do journalists inform the public about the rights set out in the UDHR?

Answer: — Not to my knowledge.

Question 3: — Does business pay any attention to the UDHR?

Answer: — Good question! Some companies may do so thanks to the work underway at the United Nations. Not enough is being done though and progress is much too slow.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its principles were enacted in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, instruments of International Law. Countries who both sign and ratify these covenants agree that these principles have become an integral part of their national law. This means that these governments must firstly protect the rights set out in the UDHR; secondly, all human beings must be protected and lastly, business must respect both people and the planet wherever and whenever they do business. Simple, right?

So is this happening? Do governments, companies and individuals follow these rules?

Seemingly not. We have a world teeming with problems such as Corruption, Poverty, Slavery, Corporate Irresponsibility and Famines.

And then there’s the key problem concerning Land Rights. Who does the world belong to anyway? Aren’t we all born free and equal with equal rights and opportunities?

So what’s gone wrong? Where did we lose our way? Are we unable to share the wealth and riches of our world?

If you would like to know more about the issues mentioned simply follow the links in this article!

If you’re thinking that this seems overwhelming, and wondering what you can do about it, don’t be discouraged. If every person takes at least one of the actions listed below, we can make the world a better place:

  • Put your vote where it matters — don’t support candidates who are equivocal about human rights.
  • Consume responsibly — find out about the supply chains of the products you buy and support only brands that have transparent supply chains.
  • Human rights begin at home: treat everyone with consideration.
  • Talk to your friends, relatives and acquaintances about what you are learning.