UN HR at 70

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 70th Anniversary: What it Means for Investors

Today, December 10, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) celebrates its 70th anniversary. It remains as relevant as it was in 1948, when it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly via resolution 217A at its 3rd session in Paris.

The UDHR is the foundation of international human rights law. It represents the universal recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, inalienable and equally applicable to everyone regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status.

This 70th anniversary is an opportunity to reaffirm the universal values and enduring principles embodied in the Declaration, mobilize people around the world, and take stock of the state of human rights today.

Human Rights & Responsible Investment

Investors can and should play a central role in ensuring companies respect human rights, which were first formed and enshrined in the UDHR.

Like companies, investors have a responsibility to respect human rights, as outlined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidance on Responsible Business Conduct for Institutional Investors. The UNGPs provide a framework for investors to engage companies on salient human rights risks (risks to people), rather than material risks (risks to the company’s bottom line), recognizing that where risks to human rights are greatest, there is strong convergence with risk to business. 

This means that investors should identify existing and potential adverse human rights impacts in their portfolios, and use their leverage to prevent and mitigate abuses and provide remedy for abuses when they occur.

A sound understanding of human rights risks in investment portfolios also allows investors to identify investment risks, including significant operational, legal and reputational risks companies might face when they do not take adequate steps to manage human rights risks. 

Despite growing awareness of and commitments by investors and businesses to human rights, there is still a long way to go realize the vision laid out by the UDHR. A recent report by the UN Working Group on business and human rights found that the majority of companies do not demonstrate practices that meet the requirements set by the UNGPs, and calls on investors to implement human rights due diligence and to systematically require effective due diligence by the companies they invest in.

This is why the Investor Alliance for Human Rights seeks to provide investors with guidance and collective action opportunities to engage companies to prevent and mitigate negative human rights impacts, and hold companies accountable when they fail to do so. 

The 70th anniversary of the declaration invites responsible investors to RESPECT the rights enshrined in the UDHR; ENGAGE business actors across the world on human rights; and REFLECT on progress and challenges, and ways that everyone can stand up for human rights.