Business activities can have a far-reaching social impact all along the value chain. Companies may have a direct impact on their own staff or on communities near production sites, e.g. by preventing unionisation or by resettling groups of people. Companies may also damage the living environment. For instance, pollution of the soil and water with mercury during gold mining impairs the health of the local residents and has a negative impact on their right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. (Article 12, UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). As a knock-on effect of gold mining, for example, children's access to education may be restricted if they cannot attend school for long periods or at all owing to impaired health and the state fails to make barrier-free schools available to them (Article 13, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (PDF, not barrier-free) that were endorsed by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in 2011, highlight the social responsibility of business enterprises. They call upon all companies, irrespective of their size, sector and structure, to respect human rights in the course of all their activities. In addition, the Guiding Principles illustrate what action companies should take in order to meet social expectations.
Human rights due diligence requires that companies identify the human rights risks of their own business activities and any negative impacts that have already occurred. To continuously ensure respect for human rights, companies should strive to prevent negative impacts, redress negative impacts that have already occurred and provide remedy to those affected. They should continuously report to stakeholders and society about the risks involved and the measures they are taking.
Respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all those who could potentially be affected by business activities and their repercussions is gaining in importance in companies. The German Institute for Human Rights is committed to advancing the growing debate on the topics of "human rights impact assessment" and "human rights risk analysis".
Together with the German Global Compact network and twentyfifty, the German Institute for Human Rights has published a brochure entitled "Assessment of Human Rights Risks and Impacts". Through five case studies, the brochure presents various forms of risk analysis and impact assessment from a business perspective and provides insight into how companies are implementing their human rights due diligence. Previously that was often not discussed in an open forum.