Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


BLIHR leaves legacy of essential steps on rights

July 2009

Fourteen multinationals have published a set of ‘essential steps’ that businesses must take to improve human rights.

The companies, which include Areva, Coca-Cola, Ericsson, Gap, General Electric, Newmont, Statoilhyrdo and Zain, have issued the guidance as the final act of the Business Leaders’ Initiative on Human Rights (BLIHR), a corporate alliance that has now been closed down.

The BLIHR was formed in June 2003 when seven founder companies joined two consultancies, Respect Europe and the Ethical Globalization Initiative, for what was envisaged as a three-year project to improve their human rights performance and produce guidance for others.

In 2006 the members agreed to continue the work for three more years but have now decided against a further extension.

The 28 essential steps, published on a ‘legacy’ website, are intended to fill what the companies see as a gap in specific guidance for business on human rights. Although there are several guidance notes elsewhere, including materials provided by the United Nations Global Compact, they feel the newly published steps give companies a human rights framework based on real experience.

The steps range from fairly standard principles on non-discrimination, indigenous peoples and privacy, to less obvious areas such as ‘ensuring that employees are adequately compensated for their contributions to inventions made for and used by the business’.

The BLIHR was founded by ABB, Barclays, Body Shop, MTV Europe, National Grid, Novartis and Novo Nordisk. Much of the work was focused on the participants, but BLIHR also attracted attention as one of the few business organizations to support the case for the United Nations draft Norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations.

Member companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Novo Nordisk, pilot-tested the norms. But when general support for the norms proved to be thin on the ground, BLIHR then concentrated on aiding the work of John Ruggie, the UN business and human rights special representative.

In its final report last month, BLIHR says it is ‘hopeful’ that Ruggie’s work will lead to a ‘sea change’ in business attitudes to human rights.

However, it adds: ‘If there is a lament after six years of working together, it is that human rights have yet to become a truly mainstream business concern. Many more companies are involved in integrating human rights internally than was the case in 2003 but this represents at best a few hundred companies, still mainly, but not exclusively, in OECD countries.’

It emphasizes that most of the world’s 70,000 transnational corporations ‘have yet to engage in this debate at all’. However, progress has been noticeable in some areas. The report says human rights are no longer seen, as they were in 2003, as essentially the concern of governments rather than business, nor are they viewed any more as the concern primarily of western governments.

Business Leaders' Initiative on Human Rights | Global | Human rights

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