The World of Business and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


This year, the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations, a move prompted by the mass destruction of cities and the death of 50 million people in World War II. The victorious nations wanted to declare the rights that belong to all humans, and for which they fought and sacrificed so much. At best, the implementation of the declaration was and still is an aspiration. Yet, the declaration remains the foundation of the society in which we wish to live.

Today, American business organizations have an enormous impact on global events, but the reverse is also true. Unfortunately, most business organizations do not adhere to the guidelines, according to The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, an organization that collects data on this issue. In their measurement of adherence to human rights they established an average score of 50 based on a normal distribution. In 2017, the average score was below 29. They maintain that what is necessary for businesses to adhere to the human rights principles are: support by the leadership of the company, a public declaration of adherence, a demonstration of implementation of the principles, and a process for remediation when violations occur.

As our readership consists of mostly business or not-for-profit readers, we believe it is worthwhile to share certain aspects of the United Nations stance on human rights, in the hope that increasing awareness and conversation around these vital issues will ultimately contribute to a more just and better society. With that in mind, we share parts of Articles 23 and 24 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which are specifically directed at the world of work and business:

  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

  • Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interest.

  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

These two Articles have been the basis of international documents describing the obligations of businesses to protect the human rights of all the stakeholders connected to their enterprise, including employees, customers, owners, and citizens of the countries in which they operate.

It is important to point out that adhering to these declarations and principles is voluntary. There is no superseding authority to force any company to adhere to these international declarations. There are some who resent the imposition of behavior by international organizations on business and there are those who still believe that the only obligation a business has is to be profitable. However, organizational research has shown treatment of employees has a significant impact on performance.

The implementation of the Universal Declaration by the nations of the world is aspirational, as is the adherence to the declaration by business organizations. But business leaders often have more flexibility and agility than government leaders, and the activities of all of us in business can turn aspiration into achievement.

Walter Reichman, Ed.D, is a partner and vice president at OrgVitality. Dr. Reichman is also the main NGO representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations from the International Association of Applied Psychology and the president of the Psychology Coalition at the UN. In that capacity, he brings information about the UN to organizations around the world and psychological insights and research to the deliberations of the UN. For more information, email Dr. Reichman directly.

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