For more information on the Global Compact’s business and human rights programme, please see also our Human Rights issues page.
Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
The Origin of the Human Rights Principles
Human rights are universal and belong to everyone equally. The origin of Principles One and Two is in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The aim of this Declaration was to set basic minimum international standards for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual. The fundamental nature of these provisions means that they are now widely regarded as forming a foundation of international law. In particular, the principles of the UDHR are considered to be international customary law and do not require signature or ratification by the state to be recognized as a legal standard.
The UDHR is a keystone document, it has been translated into over 3000 languages and dialects. While some principles may not be directly applicable to business, consistency with the declaration is important.
What does the Universal Declaration Say?
The Declaration begins by laying down its basic premise that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The Declaration then goes on to give content to its understanding of equality by prohibiting any distinction in the enjoyment of human rights on such grounds as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Life and Security
The rights to life, liberty and security, and the right to be free from slavery servitude, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment further develop the notion of personal dignity and security. The rights of the individual to a just national legal system are also set out. The right to recognition as a person before the law, to equal protection of the law, to a judicial remedy before a court for human rights violations, to be free from arbitrary arrest, to a fair trial before an independent court, to the presumption of innocence and not to be subjected to retroactive penal laws are all set out in the Declaration.
Rights protecting a person’s privacy in matters relating to family, home, correspondence, reputation and honour and freedom of movement are all part of the Universal Declaration. The right to seek asylum, to a nationality, to marry and found a family and the right to own property are also proclaimed by the Declaration. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of opinion and expression are set out along with the right of peaceful assembly and association and the right to take part in government.
Economic, Social and Cultural Freedoms
Touching other aspects of the daily lives of people, the Declaration proclaims the right to social security and to the economic, social and cultural right indispensable to human dignity and the free development of each individual’s personality. These rights are to be realised through national efforts and international co-operation in accordance with conditions in each state.
The right to work is set out, and to equal pay for equal work and to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for the worker and the worker’s family am existence worthy of human dignity (which can be supplemented if necessary by other means of social protection). The Declaration also recognizes that right to form and join trade unions, the right to rest and leisure, reasonable limitations on working hours and periodic holidays with pay. The right to a standard of living adequate for health and well being, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and to social services and security, if necessary, are also proclaimed as are the rights to education, and to participate in the cultural life of the community, and to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production.
Global Compact Principles One and Two call on business to develop an awareness of human rights and to work within their sphere of influence to uphold these universal values, on the basis that responsibility falls to every individual in society.