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Responsible business respecting people and planet: key to the responses we need.

Prof. Olga Nickole Kuyan

23 Nov 2021

Exploring human rights due diligence.
The Studio Legale Lauricella continues to discuss how lawyers can help companies take human rights seriously.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have encouraged and assisted companies to adopt policies and due diligence processes aimed at respecting human rights. This concept has provided business with a tool to manage human rights risks – to know and show how they prevent and address risks to people arising in their own operations and across business relationships. UNGPs have provided a clarity and a common platform for action that didn’t exist before 2011.

We, the leading Italian Law Firm, have taken human rights due diligence, follow UNGP and its next decade project (UNGPs 10+).

Why we conduct human rights due diligence:
the top incentives for conducting human rights due diligence include brand, reputation, corporate legal risk avoidance and compliance with reporting requirements and applicable laws.

We focus due diligence on human rights impacts:
focusing due diligence on our impact on human rights is the best way to implement UNGPs.

We have the certain corporate perspective:
when conducting human rights due diligence, we look beyond our impact on the enterprise to the impact on the affected rights holder, as a stakeholder.

We choose the Studio Legale Diffuso approach:
in order to have a better understanding of our human rights impact.

We build the capacity:
it is a better investment to work with the relevant collaborators/professionals within the Studio Legale Diffuso in order to improve our common human rights standards.

We have the potential defence:
effectively addressing potential human rights issues at the Studio Legale Diffuso can mitigate the risks and can serve as a defence if something does go wrong.

We have seen some significant uptake in government, business and multilateral policies over the last ten years, with increasing speed especially in the last few years. Less progress has been made to implement the UNGP's framework. We have seen important progress, but not enough effort, not enough action. Too few businesses make real their responsibility, or even demonstrate awareness of it. This so-called "forgotten pillar" will receive our specific attention in 2022. We need to seize opportunities and overcome key gaps to make business work for human rights and sustainable development.

The wider global challenges add to the urgency of this task: the ongoing COVID crisis, the existential climate crisis, human rights protection catastrophe, inequalities, gender and racial discrimination, shrinking civic space and uncertain human consequences of new technologies. The persistence of business-related human rights abuses should be a matter of urgent attention and priority by business, as rights-holders continue to experience harm and remain at risk. Responsible business that respects people and the planet is key to the responses we need.

The present landscape presents opportunities not to be missed. We need to reinforce the current wave of mandatory due diligence laws and make such laws effective. Italian Legislative Decree (L.D.) No. 231/20016, which introduced a due diligence process that covers both specific human rights violations and specific severe impacts on the environment, can reasonably be considered a pioneer example of mandatory due diligence legislation.

You need to know that we work. Corporate transparency and better data on human rights due diligence outcomes for people are key.

Our roles, responsibilities and objectives:
Human rights are not our ‘add-on’ feature but are central to our business strategy.
We are proactive:
the best way to protect yourself is to be proactive – we launch human rights initiatives, prepare human rights specific mindful sessions, conduct human rights impact assessments and comprehensive human rights due diligence and put in place a human rights policy.

With our Initiative Elegantia iuris we increase investor focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. We need to move beyond leaders and see wider investor action to respect human rights through their investment activities.

For the road ahead, respect for human rights needs to be at the centre of a responsible recovery. Similarly, the due diligence standard and the accountability focus of the UNGPs make them a valuable framework for practical achievement of a “just transition” to a green economy. Commitments are not enough, though. Research and businesses need to walk the talk. Our Initiative "Mechr Licht!-" stimulates business investment in research and development through the Research and Business collaboration, providing legal counselling on favourable terms through the participating in our Initiative.

An effective system without budget is a myth: It is not enough to draft human rights policies and risk assessments if there is no budget allocated to the implementation, training and enforcement of these. A business enterprise which is serious about assessing and improving its impacts on human rights will therefore look to allocating a sufficient budget for work in this area.

We call for greater action by businesses. So, we need to break down silos between policy initiatives and agendas. It needs to be supported by a number of building blocks:

Stronger accountability for how businesses are meeting their respective duties and responsibilities, and real engagement with stakeholders, including critical voices and recognition of the key role of human rights and environmental defenders.
Recognition that economic development without respect for people and the planet is not development. Business models must be compatible with respect for people and the planet.
Investor action is critical for scaling up business respect for human rights.
Recognition that there is no future without research.
Access to remedy when harms happen is an urgent priority.

The first decade demonstrated that change is possible. This provides hope for the next decade, as a foundation to intensify efforts to address remaining gaps and seize existing opportunities.

We call for collective action:
one of the most effective ways to deal with human rights issues is to work collectively with other companies, NGOs, law firms and experts to effectively address the human rights risks which are most serious and salient. This collaboration can provide a fresh perspective on human rights impacts and can demonstrate, often publically, a company’s commitment to human rights.

We need to know that you work. Today we are calling on businesses to follow our Initiatives to recommit and set clear implementation goals for the coming years, to increase the pace of implementation on the scale needed to deliver impact toward 2030 and beyond.

The race to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and save the climate will only succeed if human rights are protected and respected.
Collective challenges require comprehensive action in all parts of the world, including increased capacity building and platforms for learning and accountability, to support races to the top in all regions.

For our next news, wait for the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, which takes place from 29 November to 1 December 2021.

We invite you all to read our news and take part in the movement to make the next ten years a decade of UNGPs action.

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