Unilever publishes world's first UN Guiding Principles Report

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Unilever has today published its 'Human Rights Report' and become the world's first business to publish such a report under the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework.

The UN Guiding Principles were agreed in 2011 and were a major development in the relationship between business and human rights. Although the Principles are not binding, many countries around the world have introduced 'Action Plans'  in order to implement the Principles, the UK being the first country to do so in 2013 called 'Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights'. It applies to all UK government departments and public bodies may preclude tenderers where there is information showing misconduct.

One of the main pillars of the Guiding Principles is 'leverage', which requires one organisation to use its influence, or leverage, over another to ensure human rights norms are complied with. In other words, a company cannot set up a division and say: 'we pay our workers a good wage, we school their children and we do not pollute the local environment' and stop there. The leverage principle requires the business to look beyond its fences, and control, and see what its suppliers, and its suppliers' suppliers, are doing, in order to satisfy the Principles.

Unilever has taken the Principles to its heart. It endorsed the Guiding Principles in 2011 and in 2012 introduced a system of 'no compliance no contract'. Bearing in mind Unilever has 76,000 suppliers worldwide, and operates in 196 countries, these policies are bound to have had, and continue to have, a significant positive impact on human rights and standards of living around the world. In theory, its 76,000 suppliers now adhere to the Guiding Principles. Other major companies, including Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, GE, Microsoft and Hitachi have also adopted the Guiding Principles.

If I could even imagine how many suppliers these companies have between them, the Guiding Principles appear to be the first successful mechanism for ensuring that business has human right at its core.

Watch this space for a more detailed analysis of the Unilever report.