The Story of Human Rights (and Business) for Beginners - Part 2

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the subsequent conventions on Civil and Political Rights and Social, Economic and Cultural Rights are called the International Bill of Human RightsMost countries (but not all) have signed and ratified these treaties so the rules set out there are part of the national law.

Although human rights treaties have entered into the laws of many countries, this does not mean such rules are followed despite the existence of many human rights bodies. In order to establish some oversight on this, the Human Rights Council was set up within the United Nations system.  This is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.  If you want to find information on the human rights situation in any country in the world please click on this link.

So, we have all these institutions, all these laws and yet, as we saw it’s just not working, right? What should we do? The big question is why is it not working?

The World Today   Let’s start by looking at the world and see what is happening today. The World Economic Forum, a think tank of political, business and other leaders of society, have a report on The State of the World  looking at the economy, gender balance and competitiveness. If we are primarily concerned with human beings, the Human Capital report shows Finland in first place in terms of learning and employment.

And if we are wondering about how well people feel The World Happiness Report looks at social progress and public policy.  To sum up, there are many reports showing us exactly how counties are doing with regards to everything so the world must be moving forward as it should, right?   We are measuring everything that is happening, right?

Let’s think back to the beginning of our discussion in the last paper and the fact that this does not seem to be the case.  As I said “We have a world teeming with problems such as Corruption, Poverty, Slavery, Corporate irresponsibility, and Famines. And then there’s the key problem concerning Land Rights.

So, how did we get here and what can we do about it? In 2010, it was decided by the United Nations that something had to be done about the world and the lack of social progress we were making, this came in the form of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs intended to ensure a more developed world in terms of equality and opportunities for all and for the eradication of extreme poverty.  Governments were asked to do everything in their power to improve people’s lives.

Result? Some progress was made but much more still needs to be done including very radical changes in the behaviour of human beings and corporations. This led to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), initiated by Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations in 2015. 17 SDGs relating to the progress the world and its people need. Once again there is a call for help to governments, but also to the Private Sector, to civil society and to each and every person.

Interesting, but isn’t this a huge responsibility for business?  And who got us into this situation to begin with?


Having read the story of Human Rights and Business: Part 2 you may wonder what you can do.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Know your facts, speak to your teachers and your parents!

  • Follow the news but choose the right sources!

  • Read more than one source of news so that you get balance in the opinions offered.

  • Organize a debate in your school or with your friends.

  • Organize a class visit to the United Nations in Geneva

  • Organize a class visit to the World Trade Organization in Geneva

  • Visit your local government and ask them about the SDGs, and what they are doing about them.

Do you have some other suggestions?

Click on the links in this post for more information.

Some interesting websites

By Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, Advisor on Business and Human Rights & Education