Week of 14 December 2020
Human rights are a “binding bridge” between the UNGPs and the SDGs
Backed by international human rights law—and increasingly by domestic laws—the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) offer a complementary framework to the voluntary commitments of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As reports show that governments and companies are lagging on progress towards achieving the SDGs by 2030, the German Network of the UN Global Compact and the German Institute for Human Rights show that taking a rights-based approach that is also grounded in human rights due diligence can help accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
2020 marks the five-year anniversary of the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While some progress has been made, recent reports have shown that the world is not on track to meet the goals by 2030. The UN Secretary General’s Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030 will drive governments and companies to scale up their efforts and increase financing—reflecting an important opportunity for integrating a human rights-based approach to the 2030 Agenda. The German Network of the UN Global Compact (comprising over 600 participants from business and non-business) and the German Institute for Human Rights / Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte (Germany’s independent National Human Rights Institution) have developed guidance for companies on integrating human rights due diligence into their plans to contribute to the SDGs.
First, some context: What do the SDGs and the UNGPs have to do with each other?
- According to the discussion paper, “[t]he 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development lays out a bold and comprehensive ‘plan for people, planet and prosperity’ that promises to ‘leave no one behind.’ At the heart of this vision is an understanding that respect for human rights and the advancement of human development are interrelated and interdependent.”
- While a number of companies understand how they can help achieve the SDGs through their business activities and philanthropy, many are still “unsure how their efforts to respect human rights through robust due diligence processes, as laid out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, complement their contributions to the SDGs.”
- The paper outlines the “principles-based approach to business”—that is, a company’s responsibility to respect human rights based on the fundamental expectation that they will “do no harm” to people. This means that “companies must first address their negative social and environmental impacts and establish a culture of integrity and compliance before pursuing opportunities to solve sustainable development challenges.”
Key considerations for business
The guidance outlines some key considerations for companies to take a principles-based approach to the SDGs:
- “[H]uman rights and human development advance hand in hand.” The SDGs address fundamental human rights issues, like poverty, health, inequality, working conditions, education, the environment, justice and more. “By addressing the human rights risks and impacts in their value chains, businesses can make an immediate contribution to various SDG targets. For example, respecting labor rights and paying a living wage enables workers and their families to better realize their rights to food, housing, health, and education. Furthermore, HRDD must also underpin efforts to identify opportunities for contributions to the SDGs, since companies should ensure that efforts to ‘do good’ do not in actuality cause unintended harm.”
- “[T]he UNGPs and the 2030 Agenda help advance each other, and each brings unique advantages to the table.” The SDGs framework is data-driven and has concrete goals and timelines, which can help “drive business to concerted action.” The SDG Agenda has also captured a good deal of global attention and is backed by a wide variety of public and private stakeholders. However, the paper points out that it lacks strong accountability mechanisms, reporting on progress is not mandatory, and “there is no independent review of state or business efforts to contribute to its attainment.” The UNGPs, meanwhile, provide for remedy and accountability and are reinforced by a growing number of regulatory human rights due diligence measures.
- “[T]he UNGPs’ conceptualization of leverage resonates with SDG 17 on partnerships.” Both the SDGs framework and the UNGPs emphasise the necessity of working in collaboration with other actors to drive transformative change. The concept of “leverage” outlined in the UNGPs is a useful framing for companies to approach their role in contributing to the SDGs at scale—not just as a single actor, but often in collaboration with others.
The paper also shares actions companies can take to develop an integrated approach:
For more details on these steps, you can read the full report here: UN Global Compact Network Germany and German Institute for Human Rights, Discussion Paper: A Principles-Based Approach to the SDGs – Why It Matters for Business (December 2020)
Michael Windfuhr, Deputy Director of the German Institute for Human Rights, UN Global Compact Network Germany and German Institute for Human Rights, Discussion Paper: A Principles-Based Approach to the SDGs – Why It Matters for Business (December 2020)