Human Rights Due Diligence Info Portal

Glossary

A

Adverse human rights impacts occur when an action takes away or reduces the ability of a person to enjoy their human rights. For instance, a company that pollutes the water source of a community impacts on the rights to health, water and potentially life of people in that community. Respecting human rights therefore means not to cause harm to the human rights of individuals when an enterprise does business and adequately deal with situations in which harm has been done.

C

A human rights impact assessment steered by civil society/local communities potentially collaborating with corporate actors. For further information, see Oxfam’s website.

There is no single definition of these terms. The UN Global Compact uses them to refer to a number of contexts including countries, areas and regions: where political and social instability prevails that makes a future outbreak of violence more likely; in which there are serious concerns about human rights abuses although violent conflict is not currently present; that are currently experiencing violent conflict, including civil wars, armed insurrections, inter-state wars and other types of organised violence; that are in transition from violent conflict to peace. Based on: UN Global Compact Office / UN Principles for Responsible Investment, 2010, Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High

Conflict sensitive business refers to business practices in which a company:

(1) understands the conflict environment in which it operates;

(2) is aware of potential positive and negative impacts the company might have on the conflict environment; and

(3) implements policies to avoid causing or further exacerbating conflict and wherever possible takes steps to positively contributing to peace and stability. Based on: Andreas Graf & Andrea Iff, Conflict Sensitive Business, Review of Instruments and Guidelines, 2013.

How well a company manages its risk and impacts on people with a view to preventing, mitigating and remediating adverse impacts. This can be measured by considering its policies and processes but also practices and responses to actual incidents – such as is being done by the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark.

Respecting human rights is the baseline expectation for business of all sizes, from all sectors and under any circumstances with regard to human rights. This responsibility goes beyond compliance with national laws. Respecting human rights means responsibility for a company’s impacts on human rights. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights means that business should avoid infringing on the rights of others. Moreover, they should address any adverse impacts on human rights with which they are involved. This requires a mind-set change for many companies as they need to start considering risk to the human rights of people instead of solely looking at risk to the business.

Respecting human rights is not a passive responsibility. It requires having policies and processes in place that help to identify, prevent, mitigate and remediate adverse human rights impacts. This responsibility applies not only to human rights impacts arising from the company’s own activities but also to impacts linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships with states, customers, other companies in its supply chain etc. Furthermore, the responsibility applies to all human rights because every company can potentially impact on the whole spectrum of human rights. 

D

Dual-use application refers to products or services that can be applied as intended by the manufacturer but also used for serious human rights violations. For example, a drug can be used to heal people but also for torture e.g. in certain state prisons. An excavating machine can be used to build houses but also to demolish a settlement to make way for a rail line.

E

The eight criteria for how grievance mechanisms should be designed in order to ensure their effectiveness are: legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights-compatible, a source of continuous learning, and based on engagement and dialogue. Details on the criteria are provided in UN Guiding Principle 31.

G

A grievance mechanism in the context of business and human rights is a formal, judicial or non-judicial complaint process that can be used by individuals, workers, communities and other rightsholders that are being, or feel to be, negatively affected by certain business activities and operations. It can be hosted by companies themselves, NGOs, multi-stakeholder or governmental organisations. 

H

This refers to countries where the particular company faces a high risk of having adverse impacts on human rights. Country profiles by well-known NGOs, state authorities as well as dialogue with the local management and business partners will help companies in identifying these countries.

Human Rights are basic rights and freedoms that are inherent to all human beings without discrimination. The basic rationale behind human rights is that all people shall be treated with dignity. 


The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) dates back to 1948. It is the most widely accepted statement of what human rights are. Together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) it forms the International Bill of Human Rights. Together with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work these four documents are the reference point for what is often termed “internationally recognised human rights“.


The 30+ human rights are wide-ranging. Examples of human rights are: 

  • the right to freedom from discrimination
  • the right to freedom from torture
  • the right to freedom of association
  • the right to privacy
  • the right to enjoy just and favourable conditions of work
  • the right to an adequate standard of living
  • the right to health


Over time new rights emerge, such as the right to water, as social norms evolve into widely accepted human rights.

Human rights due diligence processes refer to the ongoing management processes a company has in place to meet its responsibility to respect human rights. They depend on the size, sector, operating context and the specific human rights risk profile of the company. These processes allow the company to track its risks of having an adverse impact on human rights and to identify the actions needed to prevent and mitigate them.

A human rights impact occurs when an action affects the ability of an individual or group to enjoy his/her or their human rights. Actual human rights impacts have already occurred or are occurring. Potential human rights impacts – also called human rights risks - may occur but have not yet done so.  


Companies can potentially impact on all human rights. Examples of companies’ impacts on human rights include:

  • exposing workers to hazardous chemicals without adequate protective equipment, 
  • working with a supplier that retains workers’ passports or forces female workers to take a pregnancy test as a precondition for employment,
  • providing loans to an enterprise for a business activity that results in the illegal logging of forests which affects the habitat of an indigenous population,
  • sourcing from a company that employs private security personnel that use excessive force against striking workers,
  • providing a product to a government that uses it to commit torture, or
  • using subcontracted labour in order to impede workers from forming unions.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights describe the assessment of human rights risks and impacts as a core element of corporate human rights due diligence. The Danish Institute for Human Rights defines human rights impact assessments as “a process for identifying, understanding, assessing and addressing the adverse effects of a business project or activities on the human rights enjoyment of impacted rightsholders such as workers and community members.” Engagement with rightsholders and other stakeholders are essential in human rights impact assessments.

Potential human rights impacts - impacts that may occur but have not yet done so. 

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights describe the assessment of human rights risks and impacts as a core element of corporate human rights due diligence. A human rights risk analysis commonly assesses the risks for adverse impacts of a company on rightsholders – through its operations, products and services and business relationships including the supply chain. Whereas human rights impact assessments are distinguished by rightsholder engagement (see above), risk assessments most often draw on publicly available resources on human rights risks and internally available expertise.

A company’s human rights risk encompasses any risks that its own operations or business relationships lead to adverse impacts on the human rights of people. To provide you with an example, your company is likely to have a high risk exposure if it is operating in, sourcing from, selling to or dealing with business partners in higher risk countries or even conflict affected regions, if it provides products or services with known potential for product misuse, if the production of its products requires a lot of manual labour along complex supply chains, if it does employ migrant laborers or contractors in markets known to be prone to worker abuse.

I

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work commits ILO member states to the principles and rights included in the 8 ILO Core Conventions. They focus on four categories: freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, elimination of forced or compulsory labour, abolition of child labour and elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) dates back to 1948 and is the most widely accepted statement of what human rights are. It has been codified through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR). Together they form the International Bill of Human Rights.

M

UN Guiding Principle 18 stipulates that the process of identifying human rights impacts should involve “meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups or other stakeholders”. The associated commentary explains that: “To enable business enterprises to assess their human rights impacts accurately, they should seek to understand the concerns of potentially affected stakeholders by consulting them directly in a manner that takes into account language and other potential barriers to effective engagement. In situations where such consultation is not possible, business enterprises should consider reasonable alternatives such as consulting credible, independent expert resources, including human rights defenders and others from civil society.”

Mitigation refers to actions taken to reduce the extent of an impact that has already occurred. The residual impact then requires remediation. With regards to potential impacts it refers to actions taken to reduce the likelihood that a certain negative impact occurs.

P

A potentially affected rightsholder is an individual whose human rights may be affected by a company’s operations, products or services. For specific impacts e.g. pollution of drinking water by, for example, chemical waste may apply to specific communities or groups.  

Using a product in a way that is unintended by the product manufacturer which results in dangers for users / others.

R

Remediation refers to the act or process of correcting a fault or deficiency. In this context it refers to the actions undertaken to make good or compensate for an adverse human rights impact. It may take different forms like apologies, restitution, rehabilitation, financial or non-financial compensation, sanctions, injunctions or guarantees of non-repetition.

A potentially affected rightsholder is an individual whose human rights may be affected by a company’s operations, products or services.

S

A company’s salient human rights issues are those human rights that stand out because they are at risk of the most severe negative impact through the company’s activities or business relationships. For example, one of the most salient risks for a pharmaceutical company will be involvement with the right to health. For an information technology company, it will be the right to privacy and freedom of expression. A food company might want to highlight labour rights in its supply chain as well as impacts related to water and land use the health of its consumers. For further information, watch this Video by the UNGP Reporting Framework.

Social and environmental impact assessments (SEIA) are used by public and corporate actors to review the social and environmental effects of infrastructure and investment projects or developmental interventions.

The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations for 2030. They seek to mobilise governments, business and civil society to contribute to the realisation of the SDGs. For further information, see the SDG Compass – A Guide for Business Action on the SDGs.

U

The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with a multi-stakeholder membership. The UN Global Compact supports companies to:

  • Do business responsibly by aligning their strategies and operations with Ten Principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption; and
  • Take strategic actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with an emphasis on collaboration and innovation.

In June 2011, the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights were unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council. The endorsement established the Guiding Principles as the global benchmark on business and human rights. They include an overview of the due diligence activities expected of businesses to fulfil the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. In that, they offer a blueprint for companies to manage their risk to adversely impact on human rights. 


The Guiding Principles build on the research and extensive consultations undertaken by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative (SRSG) for Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, during his six year mandate. Core concepts of the Guiding Principles have already been taken up in policy initiatives by the EU and governments, the review of the OCED Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the development of the ISO 26000, the update of the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Guidelines, as well as research and campaign work of civil society.


The Principles were developed to operationalise the UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework (“the UN Framework”) which was endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. The Framework has provided an authoritative focus for the business and human rights dialogue and has encouraged the convergence of stakeholder expectations and action. It rests on three pillars:

  • the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises,
  • the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address harms that may occur,
  • the need for access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies for victims of human rights abuses.

V

Established in 2000, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

http://www.voluntaryprinciples.org/

are a set of principles designed to guide companies in the extractive sector in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within an operating framework that encourages respect for human rights.