CII Advisory on Business and Human Rights

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) reaffirms its commitment to the 'fundamental rights and directive principles' on human rights enshrined in the 'Constitution of India', 'Universal Declaration on Human Rights', 'UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights' and to the Government of India's 'National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business'. These recognize:

  • The state's obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • The role of business as a specialized organ of society performing specialized functions, which require compliance with all applicable laws and respect for human rights;
  • The need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached.

Objectives

To guide Industries on respecting and promoting human rights in business.

To share and showcase 'best practices' to both - increase awareness of the subject, as well as encourage companies to move in the direction of deeper compliance over a period of time.

General Principles

The responsibility to respect and promote human rights requires that companies "know and show" the human rights-risks related to their business, and how these risks are being addressed and reduced. CII encourages its members to work on the following important areas:

  • Start with a 'public commitment' to respect human rights. Over time, this commitment needs to be embedded into the company's culture.
  • Initiate the process of 'human rights due-diligence'. By doing this, the company assesses risks to human rights, integrates the findings into its decision-making and into actions that mitigate the risks, tracks the effectiveness of these measures, and communicates its efforts - both internally, and externally.
  • Develop processes to help provide 'remedy' to those who may be harmed because of the company's actions or decisions.

Recommended Actions

In terms of specific steps, companies are advised to do the following:

1. Action: Prepare and publish 'Human Rights' policy statement.

As a clear demonstration of their intent to respect human rights, companies should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy that incorporates (at a bare minimum) a clear 'non-discrimination' statement, as well as a commitment to 'human health and safety' standards necessary for that sector/industry, that:

  • Is approved at the highest level of the business enterprise;
  • Is informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise;
  • Stipulates the company's human rights expectations from its personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services;
  • Is publicly available, and is communicated (internally and externally) to its personnel, business partners and other relevant parties;

(Over a period of time, this commitment would also need to be reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business enterprise).

2. Action: Companies should, within their sphere of influence, begin and promote the awareness and realization of human rights across their value chain/eco-system.

This would be a phase of socializing 'human rights' principles, and generating a level of common understanding of its role and its value to business, and to the nation.

Companies may, for example, socialize their 'Human Rights' policy through internal house magazines, Open Houses, Town hall meetings or undertake awareness drives, conduct orientation / training sessions etc. These socializing drives could cover employees of departments such as Human Resources, Contract Cell, Purchase/Supply Chain, Security, etc., as well as external stakeholders such as vendors/suppliers, distributors/dealers, neighborhood communities, etc.

3. Action: Companies should carry out 'Human Rights due-diligence' to first identify and prevent, and over time, mitigate and account the company's salient, or most severe, risks to human rights

Companies should base-line their position on the human rights 'maturity curve' by undertaking 'Human Rights due-diligence'.

The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how these impacts are addressed.

The 'Human Rights due-diligence' process:

  • Should cover adverse human rights impacts that the business enterprise may cause or contribute to through its own activities, or which may be directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships;
  • Would vary in complexity with the size of the business enterprise, the risk of severe human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations;
  • Should be ongoing, recognizing that the human rights risks may change over time as the business enterprise's operations and operating context evolve.

In order to gauge human rights risks, companies should identify and assess any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which they may be involved either through their own activities, or as a result of their business relationships. This process should:

  • Draw on internal and/or independent external human rights expertise;
  • Involve meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders, appropriate to the size of the business enterprise, and the nature and context of the operation.

4. Action: Companies should systematically address their salient, or most severe, risks to human rights

In order to prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts, companies should integrate the findings from their impact assessments across relevant internal functions and processes, and take appropriate action.

a. Effective integration requires that:

  • Responsibility for addressing such impacts is assigned to the appropriate level and function within the business enterprise;
  • Internal decision-making, budget allocations and oversight processes enable effective responses to such impacts.

b. Appropriate action will vary according to:

  • Whether the company causes or contributes to an adverse impact, or whether it is involved solely because the impact is directly linked to its operations, products or services by a business relationship;
  • The extent of its leverage in addressing the adverse impact.

5. Action: Companies should take steps to provide an effective 'remedy' for human rights harms

Where Companies identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for, or co-operate in impact-remediation through legitimate processes.

To make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly, companies should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities that may have been adversely impacted.

References:

  • 'Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights' by United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner
  • 'National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business' by Government of India

Policy statement on Human Rights

A policy commitment refers to any one or more publicly available statements (and not internal policies) of the company's responsibilities, commitments or expectations regarding respect for human rights across its activities and business relationships.

The policy statement should highlight a particular human right for attention (e.g., whether the commitment is limited to a particular set of rights, encompasses all internationally recognized human rights, or encompasses all internationally recognized human rights but highlights some as needing particular attention).

The statement should clarify whether the scope covers all individuals and groups who may be impacted by the company's activities or through its business relationships, or whether it relates to certain, specific groups and, if so, which ones and why.

The statement should clarify whether the commitment relates solely to the company's own activities or includes the company's expectations of other organizations with which it has business relationships (e.g., first-tier suppliers, suppliers beyond the first tier, contractors, entities in the downstream value chain, joint venture partners, governments or government agencies).

It may also contain:

  • An overview of the steps taken to develop the policy
  • Information on the company's key human rights priority areas
  • A description of how the company will deal with conflicts between international human rights principles and applicable host-government legal requirements
  • A commitment by the company to "support" (i.e. contribute to the positive realization of) human rights
  • A summary of those human rights (including labour rights and others) that the business recognizes as likely to be the most salient for its operations and information on how it will account for its actions to meet its responsibility to respect human rights