Business and human rights

Human rights are rights that belong to all human beings equally. All human beings are entitled to enjoy their human rights without discrimination. Human rights are indivisible, interlinked and interdependent. This means that advancing one right often improves the realisation of other rights and, correspondingly, weakening one right impairs the realisation of others.

Human rights related to business activities include for example the right to non-discrimination, the freedom of association and the right to privacy. Business and human rights are built on three pillars: the duty of States to protect and promote human rights, the responsibility of companies to respect human rights, and the access to remedy.

International principles have been agreed on in order to promote human rights. Key standards are the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. On this website we have collected information and documents that relate to the implantation of these standards in Finland.

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Finland’s National Action Plan

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs, 2011) describe how States and companies should implement their duties and responsibilities. Each State implements them in its territory.

Finland was the fourth State in the world to publish a National Action Plan on the UNGPs. The Finnish Government approved the National Action on 17 September 2014. Finland has implemented the measures in the Action Plan and is now continuing to implement the UNGPs in various ways in cooperation with the Government.

Read more about:

State ownership steering

At the beginning of the each Government term, the Finnish Government publishes a resolution on state ownership steering, which describes the State’s strategy for ownership steering. According to the current resolution, the State requires that the companies it owns operate in a responsible manner and obliges the board of directors to answer and report to the owners at the general meetings. As far as human rights are concerned, the State requires companies owned by it to take human rights into account in a transparent manner, both in their own activities and in their subcontracting chains, in accordance with the UN Principles.

Read more about the resolution on ownership steering (8 April 2020).

Studies and reports

The Government uses studies to examine the current state and future needs of legislation and to form a picture about companies’ actions related to human rights.

  • The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has published a memorandum on the national due diligence obligation. The Memorandum examines what kind of legal possibilities there would be to impose the obligation  and how would the obligation impact human rights, the environment and companies, and what would the prerequisite of regulation be. Memorandum on the due diligence obligation – Review of the national corporate social responsibility act (2022)
  • The SIHTI project, commissioned by the Government, examines the human rights performance of Finnish companies in relation to the expectations set out in the UN Principles. A methodology developed by Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) was used to assess the realisation of human rights among corporations. Status of Human Rights Performance of Finnish Companies (SIHTI) Project: Report on the status of human rights performance in Finnish companies (2021)
  • The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has commissioned a judicial review of the Corporate Social Responsibility Act. The analysis outlines the nature of the due diligence obligations that could be imposed on companies within a legislative framework in Finland. The report explores possible regulatory options, their scope of application, supervision and sanctions under corporate social responsibility legislation. An analysis of corporate social responsibility regulation in the European Union and some other countries provides a backdrop for the report. Judicial Analysis on the Corporate Social Responsibility Act (2020)
  • As part of the implementation of the UN Principles, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs commissioned a study to examine how suited Finland’s current legislation is for addressing the harmful effects on human rights caused by Finnish companies abroad and what potential gaps and problems the regulation includes. A report on Finnish legislation, international business and human rights PDF 428 kB (2015, available in Finnish)

Dialogue with stakeholders

As part of the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Finland organised round table discussions in which the State, companies, labour market organisations and non-governmental organisations sought a common view on how the UNGPs should be implemented in business activities.

Public procurement

According to the UN Principles, States should ensure that human rights are taken into account in public procurement.

  • A guide on socially responsible public procurement published by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (2017) describes how human rights and other corporate responsibility issues can be taken into account in public procurement.
  • The Ministry has also commissioned a report (2015, available in Finnish) on considering social aspects in public procurement.
  • The Ministry of Finance published Finland’s first national public procurement strategy in autumn 2020. Eight thematic groups have been set up for the implementation of the strategy. The thematic groups are tasked with planning and taking concrete action to promote the implementation of the strategy’s objectives. Human rights belong to the group on social sustainability.

Public financing instruments

According to the UN Principles, States should consider human rights in public financing to companies. In this context, a capacity-building project related to companies and human rights is under way in Finland for public financing instruments in 2018–2021. The project is carried out by Shift, a non-profit organisation.

Read more about the programme’s objectives and achievements. “Aligning Finland’s State Financing for Private Sector Activity Abroad with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights PDF 314 kB”, published in autumn 2019.

Final Program Report ”Embedding the UN Guiding Principles in Finland’s State Financing of Private Sector Activity Abroad – Final Program Report”, published in December 2022.

OECD National Contact Point

The OECD Guidelines to Multinational Enterprises (2011) and their more descriptive guidance explain how States would want companies to act responsibly.

The OECD’s National Contact Points promote the awareness of the OECD Guidelines. In Finland, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment acts as the National Contact Point together with the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility.

Read more about

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU

In December 2019, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs organised an international conference on the EU’s business and human rights policy in Brussels. An agenda for action and a paper on the perspectives of stakeholders were published during the conference.

Read more about

Other support materials

Finland has provided training on business and human rights to companies and public officials. The training has been carried out by FIBS ry, KMPG, and others.

In addition, country-specific memoranda on the state of social responsibility, including human rights, have been drawn up for each country for export promotion visits. The memoranda are available on the website of Market Opportunities.

  • Read more about the international principles and guidelines on corporate of social responsibility.

Further information: Laura Pätsi