Promoting and implementing human rights worldwide

Even more than 70 years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights are still being disregarded and violated to varying degrees in many countries around the world. This is unacceptable. Human rights must be promoted and implemented worldwide.

Companies are committed to human rights in a variety of ways for ethical and economic reasons: On the one hand, their direct investments increase the potential for greater democracy and human rights; on the other hand, companies actively promote human rights as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR). In the course of their foreign trade engagement, companies often encounter major challenges in emerging and developing countries that do not allow for hasty quick fixes but call for long-term strategies: According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 62 percent of workers worldwide are employed in the informal sector, and 41 countries have not ratified the 8 ILO core labor standards.
A hasty withdrawal from countries due to the human rights situation there or the hasty termination of business relationships with supplier companies with deficits would in many cases not improve the situation on site, but rather tend to worsen it ("cut and run" instead of the necessary "stay and improve"). Responsibility toward the stakeholders there, workers as well as the local environment, requires long-term commitment, e.g. in the area of education and training of supplier companies. Companies cannot replace the responsibility of states to implement human rights. However, they can support the strengthening of human rights in a complementary, not substitutive, way to national government policies.
German companies enjoy a very good reputation in the course of their foreign trade activities
Companies from Germany make significant contributions to sustainable development at foreign locations through their local presence (Study Sustainability through Presence - Contributions of German Companies to Sustainable Development at International Locations, IW Köln Consult GmbH). Companies frequently transfer standards and procedures when operating abroad: 81 percent of companies are on a par with or exceed the standards of their local competitors. In terms of standards for employees, 92 percent of German companies clearly exceed local practice, and 79 percent in terms of ecological standards. The companies' commitment abroad is long-term. Almost all companies plan to be permanently represented abroad with their own branch office. 62 percent of companies have already been abroad for 10 years or more, 29 percent for 20 years or more. German employers are therefore in high demand among employees worldwide and are considered particularly attractive.

Human rights covenants are agreements under international law and thus intergovernmental agreements that are made applicable through national legislation. Economic, social and cultural rights in particular affect a large number of areas of law. The "protection of the family" alone, for example, is implemented through regulations in the areas of tax law, social law and labor law, among others. The social and political balancing of interests in this so-called second generation of human rights can therefore only take place through sovereign states. Companies have neither the social and political mandate nor the ability to resolve the conflicting goals that arise here.
UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by the UN Special Representative on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, Professor John Ruggie. The Guiding Principles include the "Protect, Respect and Remedy" framework, which clearly distinguishes between the responsibilities of different actors in the field of business and human rights:

  • Protect: States have a duty to protect people within its borders from human rights abuses.
  • Respect: Companies should respect human rights and establish the necessary management structures ("human rights due diligence").
  • Remedy: Both legal and non-legal grievance mechanisms should be developed and strengthened.

The UN Guiding Principles provide a good basis for promoting human rights worldwide. To drive implementation of the Guiding Principles, a group of experts has been set up, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. During their mandate, the experts are to raise awareness of the UN Guiding Principles through country visits, the development of information materials and intensive dialogue with all stakeholders, while promoting their implementation through capacity-building measures. To date, 26 countries have adopted national action plans to implement the UN Guiding Principles. In Germany, the German government has implemented the UN Guiding Principles through the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) and passed the Act on Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chains (Supply Chain Due Diligence Act) in 2021.