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It’s Time to Get Serious About International Human Rights

Take a look at your company’s website. When you do, is it quickly clear to you that your company is serious about its efforts to avoid violations of international human rights in its operations? If it is not, it is time to get to work on this issue. Governments, courts (legal and those of public opinion), and the markets are steadily showing less tolerance for companies whose operations either actively or through neglect create violations of internationally recognized human rights.

Australia may soon be the next country to enact a law that would require companies to disclose their practices for preventing violations of internationally recognized human rights in their operations and supply chains. Those companies with significant operations in the United Kingdom probably have already had to make a disclosure clearly on their webpage about the company’s commitment to the prevention of violations of international human rights in order to comply with the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.

For companies whose operations necessarily involve difficult places in the world, this issue is of immediate concern and one that may take substantial investment in money and time to resolve. The jungles, mountains, and remote plains of many countries present a considerable logistical challenge to the determination, elimination, and verification efforts related to operations in those places and potential violations of international human rights.

It is time for the HR departments of companies that don’t already do so to address this issue directly and move forward with some concrete actions. There is a great deal to learn about this area. I invite you to review the recently published newsletter of the Human Rights Law Committee of the International Bar Association to see the number of types of issues that you may encounter in this field.

In some circumstances, you may find conflicts between broad pronouncements by organizations and governments on international human rights and what is required to comply with the labor laws of a particular country. One challenge related to this point, discussed in an article in the referenced newsletter, is the potential conflict between certain International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions — which have been adopted by some countries, such as Canada, either directly or by incorporation into treaties — and many countries’ existing labor laws.1 As we strive to understand the difficulty of the issues related to international human rights, we can all take the first step toward becoming more serious about each of our company’s efforts to ensure that our company’s operations are not adding to the misery in the world.

1 “The Rule of Labour Law and Conflict with International Human Rights Guidelines,” Newsletter of the Human Rights Law Committee of the Public and Professional Interest Division of the International Bar Association (Vol 1, Issue I), September 2017

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.