U.S. businesses are increasingly operating in countries with weak rule of law institutions and poor human rights records. At the same time, the U.S. Government has recently issued policy guidance stating that it expects companies will respect international human rights norms when operating abroad, conduct human rights due diligence in their operations, and seek to avoid infringing on human rights. This guidance reflects a notable shift from the concept of “corporate social responsibility” (which focuses on corporate philanthropy) to “business and human rights” (which focuses on companies making sure their own business operations respect human rights).
U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: The U.S. Government has stated that it expects U.S. companies to treat the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the UN GPs) as a floor rather than a ceiling in their operations. The UN GPs provide that companies should seek to avoid infringing on international human rights and, if that is not possible, that they provide remedies. To implement the UN GPs, companies are expected to engage in human rights due diligence in which they examine where their operations are most likely to impact negatively international human rights and to seek to avoid such impacts. Human rights are defined in the UN GP’s as those rights set forth in several key United Nations human rights instruments. Such due diligence requires companies to engage in non-traditional legal and factual research and analysis as well as interacting with a variety of external stakeholders, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: The Guidelines represent recommendations by governments to multinational enterprises on responsible business conduct, including human rights issues. The U.S. government promotes these guidelines and has a National Contact Point that assists in their implementation.