Translating ‘Human Rights Speak’ into ‘Business Speak’

By Prof. Roel Nieuwenkamp, Chair of the OECD Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct

Recently I spoke at a number of conferences about human rights due diligence within supply chains. Many business people engaged in corporate responsibility pointed out how challenging it is to persuade their colleagues to engage in human rights due diligence simply because they not familiar with ‘human rights language’. They spoke about how important it is to translate human rights language into language that is understandable to business.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is embedded in the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights and Business. It is also embedded in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which is equipped with a unique grievance mechanism known as the National Contact Point (NCP) mechanism. The NCP mechanism handles complaints regarding about the behavior of multinationals and tries to resolve issues through dialogue and mediation. NCP’s also often face the common question from enterprises “what exactly does human rights due diligence mean for my business?”

An excellent resource for addressing this question and helping to interpret the language of human rights for business can be found in the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework. This framework is a comprehensive guide for companies on how to report on how they respect human rights. Annex A of the Reporting Framework is exactly what you are looking for if you would like to translate ‘human rights speak’ into ‘business speak’.

This Annex, entitled The Relationship between Businesses and Human Rights, can be a useful resource to business to better understand  human rights and their relationship to them.  For example, what does the right to self-determination mean for a company?  It is not so obvious!  The Annex can help render these concepts less abstract for companies by first explaining what specific human rights are and then providing good examples of how businesses might be involved in impacting those rights.

Right of Self-determination
Brief explanation of the right Examples of how business might be involved with an impact on the right



A right of peoples, rather than individuals.

Peoples are entitled to determine their political status and place in the international community.

It includes the rights to pursue economic, social and cultural development, to dispose of a land’s natural resources and not to be deprived of the means of subsistence.

A particular right of indigenous peoples to self-determination has been specifically recognized by the international community.


• Engaging in business activities on land that has traditional significance to the peoples that inhabit an area when that land was acquired by Government without due consultation with the local population.


• Any activity that might have impacts on indigenous peoples’ lands, whether through acquisition, construction or operation, may give rise to impacts on their right to self-determination.


In other words, if you are looking for a good translation of ‘human rights speak’ into ‘business speak’, look no further!

The complete UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework can be found here.  For further reading on the intersection of human rights and business I also recommend Human Rights Explained – for Business by Global CSR. This book provides readers with the full list of 48 human rights in the International Bill of Human Rights and demonstrates the relevance of each right within a business context.