International human rights law is the only
existing internationally agreed expression of
the minimum conditions that everybody
should enjoy and therefore holds promise
to act as a benchmark for corporate


The relationship between business and human rights is clear, some of the many intersections between corporate activity and human rights are:

  • Potential health impacts of products such as fast food, building materials, tobacco as well as of environmental damage in general;
  • The price and availability of important pharmaceuticals and issues related to the right to health and the right to life;
  • The potential human rights impact of supply chains (ethical sourcing);
  • and many others.

Movies such as The Insider and Blood Diamonds have raised public awareness of these issues and while human rights are now on the corporate agenda and there to stay, they are managed largely in an ad hoc manner with little industry consensus on how to tackle the challenges they pose.


Numerous international treaties, conventions and declarations identify human rights which governments and all members of society should uphold. Several international organisations, such as:

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO);
  • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) through the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises;
  • The United Nations through The Global Compact, and the draft United Nations Norms on Trans-national Business and Human Rights; and
  • Industry specific principles, for example The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

have all identified human rights obligations specific to private companies.

A link to these sites can be found within resources.


While these instruments are voluntary and therefore business friendly to entice participation the implementation in practice for managers without human rights experience is difficult as they often don’t meet the complex, varied and ever-changing needs of the business world.

Businesses need mechanisms subtle enough to function in a complex system, yet simple enough to be used by managers with little or no human rights experience.

All instruments have in common the attempt to define what exactly the human rights obligations of business are and to provide practical guidance in translating these obligations into activities.

The human rights movement, unlike the environmental movement was relatively slow to engage with the business sector and for a long time both viewed each other with mutual suspicion and in some cases still do.

Momentum promotes the use of the human rights framework and believes that it has significant potential to act as an internationally recognised benchmark for corporate sustainability and responsibility activities. For more information on how we can assist you please go to services.