Pillar II. The Corporate Responsibility to Respect
Commitment [pages 32-34]
A business faced with risks of human rights violations in its operations should make it publicly clear, in the first place, that it is aware of those risks and is ready to tackle them. This respect for human rights is expressed outwardly by a publicly communicated business commitment.
The Government of the Czech Republic recommends that businesses adopt internal commitments in accordance with the recommendations below. It recommends, in the formation of commitments and codes of conduct, drawing on the aforementioned international conventions and Guiding Principles of the UN or other internationally acknowledged standards (such as the Global Compact or the sectoral recommendations of the OECD). The adoption of such commitments should not be reduced to a formal declaration, but should be followed up by specific steps for their implementation. Companies actively subscribing to human rights responsibility set a good example for the entire sector and help to spread the Czech Republic’s good reputation abroad.
What should a commitment encompass?
- A definition of whose human rights are affected by the commitment.
- Conformity with national law and fundamental international legal standards: If national law is at odds with internationally acknowledged human rights requirements, businesses must find ways of respecting international standards that will not bring them into conflict with national law.
- Human rights as a legal compliance issue: Even if the host state’s law does not enforce human rights standards, approach them within the framework of internal decision-making as though they were legal requirements.
- Handling of borderline situations: What to do if a commitment cannot be pursued completely, e.g. due to a conflict with the host state’s law or the monopoly supplier’s requirements.
- Control, evaluation and implementation mechanisms.
- Frameworks for consultation with the groups of the public affected or their representatives (this matter is covered by a separate section below).
- Relations with partners: Although an internal document cannot dictate how business partners are to conduct themselves, it can influence them indirectly. In this respect, businesses should specify – as part of their commitment – what standard of care they expect from their partners and suppliers and, status permitting, they should implement that standard in the form of tender conditions of contractual clauses or by other means.
- Protection of whistleblowers: This includes, on the one hand, instructions for employees on how to proceed if they detect unlawful conduct and, on the other, protection from retaliation.
- Reasonable training, education and awareness-raising
- Mechanisms of redress and the resolution of disputes between a business and any victims within the business.
- Transparency, provisions on public information.
For a commitment to be effective, it should also comply with the following formal and procedural criteria:
- Approval by the highest echelons of management: Board of directors, chief executive officer, etc.
- Professional production: For small businesses, it is enough to adopt any of the model documents. Multinational corporations with complex business dealings should devise a built-to-suit commitment.
- Specific expectations of specific persons: The commitment should not be a general declaration, but should have specific implications for employees and management alike, including a designation of liability for implementation and checks. It is essential for employees to be acquainted with the commitment and the consequences of breaching it.
- Implementation: Other internal policies, directives and instructions should be brought into compliance with the commitment, or new ones should be drawn up. Enforcement within the scope of internal processes is absolutely crucial.
- Group-wide scope: If a business as a de facto influence on the functioning of other businesses, stemming in particular from the controlling relations within a group, the commitment should also apply to them.
- Updates: The commitment should be regularly revised and updated.
Businesses may – and are encouraged to – modify tenets of the Guiding Principles and tailor them to their operations, provided that there is no loss of substance or purpose as a result. One example of this sort is the sectoral Electric Industry Code of Conduct, which fleshes out and applies the Guiding Principles to the specific needs of the electrical engineering industry. This Code was drawn up by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and has also been adopted by several companies in the Czech Republic.
A commitment is not merely an internal document. It is a statement by a business that it is aware of and serious about its human rights responsibility. Besides being posted on the corporate website, the commitment should also be incorporated into communications with suppliers, investors, business partners and other groupings. These communications should encompass the following information:
- How did the commitment come about?
- What target groups (right-holders) does it concern?
- How will it be disseminated among those it concerns?
- Among those who are to implement it (employees, suppliers)?
- Among the right-holders who are to protect it?
Documents and sources of information
The Office of the Government of the Czech Republic collects model documents, guidelines and materials intended for businesses to improve the performance of tasks in this chapter, and posts them on the National Corporate Social Responsibility Portal: http://narodniportal.cz/