Principles Deciphered


Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights

  • Respecting human rights includes:
    • using due diligence to avoid infringing human rights (“do no harm”); and
    • addressing adverse impacts.
  • Business must support human rights by taking voluntary action to make a positive contribution towards the protection and fulfillment of human rights via:
    • core business activities;
    • strategic social investment/philanthropy;
    • public policy engagement/advocacy; and/or
    • partnerships and other collective action.
  • Supporting human rights should complement (not substitute for) respecting human rights.
  • Vulnerable groups require special attention e.g., women, children, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, migrant workers, older persons etc.



Businesses should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

  • Complicity: being implicated in a human rights abuse caused by another company, government, individual or other group
  • Complicity generally entails 2 elements:
    • An act or omission (failure to act) by a company, or individual representing a company, that “helps” (facilitates, legitimizes, encourages, etc.) another to carry out a human rights abuse; and
    • The knowledge by the company that its act or omission could provide such “help”.



Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collecting bargaining

  • Freedom of association: respect for the right of all employers and all workers to freely and voluntarily establish and join groups for the promotion and defence of their occupational interests.
  • Collective bargaining: a voluntary process or activity through which employers and workers discuss and negotiate their relations, particularly:
    • terms and conditions of work; and
    • the regulation of relations between employers, workers and their organizations.



Businesses should uphold the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour.

  • Forced or compulsory labour: any work or service:
    • that is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty; and
    • for which that person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.
  • Wages or other compensation does not necessarily indicate that the labour is not forced or compulsory.
  • Forced labour can take a number of forms, including:
    • Exploitative practices such as forced overtime
    • Lodging of deposits (financial or personal documents) for employment
    • Withholding and non-payment of wages
    • Deception or false promises about terms and types of work



Businesses should uphold the effective abolition of child labour.

  • ILO conventions prescribe a minimum age for admission to employment or work that:
    • must not be less than the age for completing compulsory schooling; and in any case
    • not less than 15 years.
  • Minimum Age for Admission to work/employment:
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Businesses should uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Discrimination means treating people differently or less favourably because of characteristics that are not related to their merit or the requirements of the job.

Discriminated characteristics commonly include:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • National extraction
  • Social origin
  • Age
  • Disability
  • HIV/AIDS status
  • Trade union membership
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination can arise diverse work-related activities, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Remuneration
  • Hours of work and rest/paid holidays
  • Maternity protection
  • Security of tenure
  • Job assignments
  • Performance assessment and advancement
  • Training and opportunities
  • Job prospects
  • Social security
  • Occupational safety and health



Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges.

  • Precautionary approach: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation” (Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration).
  • Precaution involves:
    • risk assessment;
    • risk management; and
    • risk communication.
  • ‘Prevention rather than remediation’: early action to prevent environmental damage is more cost-effective!



Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.

  • The Rio Declaration states that business has the responsibility to ensure that activities within their own operations do not cause harm to the environment
  • Society expects business to be good actors in the community
  • Business gains its legitimacy through meeting the needs of society
  • Society is increasingly expressing a clear need for more environmentally sustainable practices.



Businesses should encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies

  • Environmentally sound technologies:
    (as defined in Agenda 21 of the Rio Declaration)
  • should protect the environment,
  • are less polluting,
  • use all resources in a more sustainable manner,
  • recycle more of their wastes and products, and
  • handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes.



Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

  • Extortion: “The solicitation of bribes is the act of asking or enticing another to commit bribery. It becomes extortion when this demand is accompanied by threats that endanger the personal integrity or the life of the private actors involved.” (OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises)
  • Bribery: “An offer or receipt of any gift, loan, fee, reward or other advantage to or from any person as an inducement to do something which is dishonest, illegal or a breach of trust, in the conduct of the enterprise’s business.” (Transparency International’s Business Principles for Countering Bribery)
  • Working against corruption includes:
    • Avoiding bribery, extortion and other forms of corruption,
    • Proactively developing policies and programmes to address corruption internally and within supply chains
    • Working collectively and joining civil society, the UN and governments to realize a more transparent global economy