Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

On 10th December 2018, the global community celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – the milestone document in the history of human rights. The UDHR underpins all international human rights law and sets out the fundamental human rights of all people to be universally protected. It helps people retain freedom, equality and dignity and prevents violation and exploitation.

In late November, Sedex attended the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights hosted in Geneva under the central theme “Business respect for human rights – building on what works”. Every year the Forum is attended by business, governments, civil society, the investment community and human rights defenders and representatives of impacted workers and communities.

“Doing the right thing is also the smart thing” was the clear message for business throughout the two days. Dante Pesce, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that there is strong evidence to support the business case for organisations adopting a human rights approach. However, most businesses around the world need to focus more on carrying out the human rights due diligence as expected of them.


Here are the key highlights Sedex heard at the Forum:

  • Implementing the UN Guiding Principles is the single biggest way any business can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The need for partnerships (SDG 17) is crucial.
  • CEOs of both multinational corporations and smaller businesses emphasised that mindset is key to a human rights approach and this must come from the very top. Sune Skadegaard Thorsen of GLOBAL CSR explained that an effective way to scale up responsible business in your supply chain is to ensure that suppliers have a human rights policy commitment, have assessed their impacts and provide both grievance mechanisms and access to remedy. This was a key addition to Sedex’s last update of our SMETA audit methodology.
  • Leading businesses are continuing to recognise the need to move away from an approach based strictly on policing the supply chain. Many companies are taking steps to ensure their suppliers have the capacity and capability to identify and address human rights issues both within their own businesses and their supply chains.


In a session organised by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) and Sedex partner Stronger Together, Henrietta Lake from Lake Advisory provided an example of how one of Sainsbury’s suppliers was able to recognise an incident of modern slavery within their business because they had implemented a training programme that enabled staff to spot tell-tale signs of forced labour and know what action to take. This emphasises the importance of education and utilising tools such as e-Learning and in-person workshops.

While the UK is taking a leading approach to tackling modern slavery, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stresses that debt bondage affected 50% of the 25 million victims of forced labour in the private sector globally in 2016. It is therefore imperative that there’s a global, multi-stakeholder approach to address this issue.

  • Governments are increasing their expectations. In addition to the increasing legislative requirements around modern slavery seen in many markets, Stephanie Freyberg from the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said that the German Government expect 50% of businesses to have incorporated the UN Guiding Principles into their business by 2020.
  • A human rights approach is becoming increasingly important to investors. Norges Bank Investment Management and Polaris both described how they include the UNGPs in their assessment of companies, however it’s clear there is a large gap between investor expectations and business performance.

Sedex believes it is clear there is a need to turn the high-level discussion about policy, process and frameworks heard at an international forum into practical realities that are understood by all businesses and benefit individual people and communities.

Importantly, there are now a range of tools available to businesses – whether motivated by the ‘business case’ or a simpler moral responsibility to do right thing – to get started on the process of implementing the Guiding Principles. In the words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Kailash Satyarthi, at the Forum, “Do you see a change-maker inside of you?”


How Sedex can help

Sedex is a global membership organisation dedicated to helping companies drive improvements in their business practices within their supply chain. We have a wealth of experience working with businesses in the UK, helping to map their supply chain, identity and manage risks. Our products and services enable companies to manage and self-improve their business’ performance and manage human rights and environmental risks that may be affecting their suppliers.

To find out more, you can contact Sedex on +44 (0)20 7902 2320 or helpdesk@sedex.com

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