SPROWT ARTICLE | Francisco Granja & Mariana Vicente


Corporate respect for Human Rights – the 'S' pillar of ESG

Human Rights are the perfect pillar of the “S” in ESG – or, in other words, the social dimension of sustainability, focused on people and communities. They are internationally recognized, have been concretized (and widely studied) for decades, and gather structural consensus across various decision-making tables in sustainability – from legislators to CEOs, the full respect for Human Rights is considered a “minimum safeguard” for a business aiming to be considered sustainable. It’s no coincidence that the European legislator chose the term “minimum safeguards” to refer to corporate alignment with Human Rights when creating a European taxonomy on sustainability.

Indeed, there is a practical guide on how to implement respect for Human Rights in the business context. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (known worldwide as UNGPs) provide a set of informative guidelines on how companies can – and should! – implement a continuous and dynamic process of mitigating the risk of Human Rights violations, not only in their direct operations but also in their value chains.

From the perspective of the relationship between companies and Human Rights, the United Nations has also continuously highlighted the disproportionate impacts on women and girls, materializing in unique ways and often through the overlapping of multiple layers of discrimination.

Therefore, considering that the debate on companies and Human Rights has not adequately addressed the differentiated impacts of Human Rights violations on women and girls (or, in other words, has not sufficiently included a gender lens), the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights launched a thematic project in 2017 to examine the gender dimension of the UNGPs. This resulted in the publication of an official interpretation guide with practical recommendations on what it means to protect, respect, and remedy the Human Rights of women in a business context, in alignment with the UNGPs.

In the “S” pillar of ESG, there is a robust, practical, and inclusive normative framework ready to enable organizations to carry out a continuous process of mitigating the risk of Human Rights violations – without losing sight of the reality of groups particularly vulnerable to social atrocities, such as modern slavery or human trafficking.

In summary, nowadays, there are all (and then some!) the tools, guidelines, and knowledge to trigger serious and structured work in the field of social sustainability within organizations – always with respect for Human Rights at its core.