Practical ways for taking into account the human rights impacts of companies
Finnish companies, non-governmental organisations and ministries have discussed ways to respect human rights in business activities. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have together with companies and other stakeholders been leading a dialogue on the human rights impacts of companies.
The aim of the dialogue has been to increase mutual understanding and to provide practical ways for taking into account human rights impacts, which International responsibility standards do not always provide.
Based on this dialogue, a document titled Human rights impacts of own operations: insights for due diligence is published. The purpose of the document is to raise awareness about human rights issues related to occupational health and safety, discrimination at work, forced labour, adequate wage, excessive working hours, land rights and the freedom of association in countries in which human rights legislation or its enforcement is insufficient.
The following organisations have participated in drawing up the document: Fortum, Stora Enso, Fazer Group, Metso Corporation, Neste, Valmet, Save the Children Finland, Technology Industries of Finland, Trade Union Pro, FIBS, The Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland SASK, and Finnwatch.
– With this dialogue, we have wanted to support companies in understanding the principles concerning human rights and introducing them into practice, says Director-General Pekka Timonen from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
The document encourages companies to look at their human rights impacts in terms of the consequences their activities may have for people. Its perspective therefore differs from a traditional risk assessment, in which the risks involved in the business activities are considered from the company's own point of view. Furthermore, the document emphasises the importance of an open and unprejudiced attitude.
For example, when it comes to land use issues, the company should not rely only on the information received from the authorities, but find out about the ownership history of the land area in question and the interests regarding its possession before making any decisions. As regards discrimination, the company should know the local conditions thoroughly and ensure that, for example, recruitment practices, work tasks, work facilities, wage system or the process of terminating an employment contract do not discriminate anyone.
– It is important that parties interested in companies and human rights have together been able to discuss matters that are often very difficult, says Director-General Pekka Timonen.
– As a result, we have a good document that we hope will encourage as many companies as possible to consider how their own activities affect the realisation of human rights.
The document and the dialogue it is based on are part of Finland's National Action Plan for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011). The principles are built on three pillars: the state duty to protect and promote the realisation of human rights, the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights and safeguarding access to remedy for victims of adverse human rights impacts.
Human rights impacts of own operations: insights for due diligence (in Finnish)
Linda Piirto, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, tel. +358 29 504 7028
Kent Wilska, Commercial Counsellor, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, tel. +358 29 535 1522