All around the world firms of all sizes are awakening to the reality that their global business practices are threatening the natural environment, endangering lives and violating international conventions around Human Rights. In today's interconnected landscape of new media, all it takes is one blog post, one video upload or one leaked document to expose corporate malfeasance. The risk of negating to move in tandem with the flow of the public consciousness exposes firms of all sizes to immense reputational dangers. Gone are the days when tragedies and tyranny conducted on the other side of the world will go unnoticed.

Human rights are an essential element of corporate reputation management

In the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and many other parts of the world, efforts are being taken to ensure that corporations respect and affirm global human rights standards. Domestic and international legal culture is shifting ever closer to a far reaching conception of the necessity to affirm human rights policy lest be exposed to tremendous public backlashes, fines and losses of international brand standing and reputation.,

Norton Rose Fulbright and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law recently conducted a huge comparative analysis of the global landscape of human rights accountability and its relationship to the business landscape.

This research inquiry was conducted withThe UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as an essential framework for understanding global corporate responsibility and efforts of Due Diligence specifically in regards to Human Rights (HR) violations. In this analysis, 150 global firms were analyzed in regards to how they consider and enforce the UN's guiding principals regarding human rights.

Among key findings from this inquiry was the elevation of the necessityfor businesses in all international sectors to consider the impact their undertakings have on third party stakeholders such as local communities and ecosystems connected to the collection of natural resources or the production of goods. Of the firms surveyed, 50% were found not to have conducted any level of HR due diligence though of the ones that had, as many as 77% were able to identify clear or potential violations of global HR standards in regards to operations.

Simply considering the due diligence of employees and internal stakeholders runs the risk of exposing firms to violations of HR conventions which demand considerations of third party external stakeholders such as indigenous groups among many others.

The researchers identified a trend which suggests that willingness to explore corporate responsibility in regards to human rights abuses was tied specifically to past allegations and public opinions regarding their industries and competitors.

In essence, the more pressure that is placed on businesses, the more they are scrutinized, the more their reputation is threatened, the greater likelihood that they will move to meaningfully explore, record and rectify HR violations. Many firms still struggle internally with being able to decide how far to go in regards to exploring human rights abuses in regards to supply chain issues and the connection to third party rights holders as identified by the United Nations.

Choose the right side of history

The researchers suggest that for firms to more meaningfully take on HR as a core element of their legal responsibility, efforts much be taken to conduct thorough risk assessments, develop action plans so as to change operational policies to better reflect impacts and rights of third party entities such as local communities and ecosystems and integrate human rights reporting mechanisms into other aspects of organizational policy relating to compliance and due diligence among others.

Full findings from this inquiry are available online at Norton Rose Fulbright's website devoted to Human Rights Due Diligence.

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