By Brian Collett — A priority for employers must be to rectify social inequality, now clearly highlighted by the wealth gap, reports the London-based Institute for Human Rights and Business.
The institute points out that the top one per cent of the world’s population now owns more than everybody else put together. It makes the call for responsible action in its eighth annual top ten of business and human rights issues to be tackled in the coming year.
The 2017 list emphasises links between human rights violations and inequality, erosion of labour rights, increased discrimination and barriers to political participation.
An example given of bad practice is the concentration on corporate tax dodges and the prioritisation of shareholders’ interests, so that less attention is paid to employees’ income and welfare.
The gig economy, in which labour-saving technology results in job cuts, temporary employment and zero-hours contracts, is seen as another threat. The report says workers in these circumstances often lack union protection and, in some countries, access to benefits, including health insurance.
The responsibility of business towards the world’s 65 million displaced people, the highest number ever recorded, is similarly regarded as a priority because so many of them have to work in the informal sector and are consequently vulnerable to abuse.
Other priorities in the institute’s list are human rights protection when trade deals are struck, the risk of modern-day slavery and debt bondage in increasingly lengthening supply chains, the need for openness when consumers and customers agree terms, the importance of media honesty and impartiality in preserving free speech, watchfulness over exploitation in the construction sector, legal accountability for business involvement in human rights abuses, and threats to workers’ rights and employment when automation is introduced to maintain profits.
John Morrison, the institute’s chief executive, believes that for 15 years human rights specialists have failed to communicate the relevance to “wider society”.
The problems have arisen against a background of a “new era of growing nationalist, populist and protectionist politics”.
Morrison concludes: “The rights implications are enormous. Basic protections for workers and communities are at risk, which will be eroded if perceived as barriers to new jobs and reinvigorated economies.
“The human rights movement faces a perilous future, and it is up to all of us – civil society, governments, as well as businesses – to champion the issues people care about and make human rights relevant to their daily lives.”