Human Rights: Why BP Should be Congratulated

An operator overlooks the Atlantic LNG facility in Point Fortin, Trinidad.

Published Jun 7, 2016 12:28 AM by David Hammond

By David Hammond, CEO and Founder of Human Rights at Sea

As a maritime human rights charity for whom the topic of business and human rights, its implementation in the maritime environment and advocacy in support of awareness of the U.N. guidance is a key part of our Charitable Objectives, the overt stance and the commitments explicitly articulated by BP is a refreshing read.

The soft law guidance of the 2011 U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the “UNGPs” or the “Guiding Principles”), specifically the second pillar concerning corporate responsibility to ‘Respect’ human rights and the third pillar for access to ‘Remedy’, has previously received a lukewarm reception from commerce.

Of note, it is the second UNGP General Principle that recognizes that ‘the role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, [are] required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights’.

Stepping back in time, during the 2014 International Bar Association’s Tokyo conference the relevant forums were full of international lawyers discussing the merits of whether, or not, to advise clients to get alongside John Ruggie’s work and advise implementation of the relevant sections of the UNGPs. Unfortunately, many were of the view that it did not make much financial sense.  In short, it was not a great fee earner.

From a legal perspective and as voluntary guidance, the lack of obligation to comply has arguably hindered the UNGPs progress in terms of implementation. One can imagine some of the advice: “It is a nice to have, good to be seen to be engaging with, but you are not obliged to implement.”

From a civil society perspective and since its establishment in 2014, Human Rights at Sea has been pressing for greater explicit articulation and inclusion of such positive social responsibility measures, including the global implementation of the UNGPs throughout business enterprises operating the maritime environment and their associated supply chains.

Nevertheless, the really smart businesses are listening to the new generation of human rights advisers who have the vision to see the emerging landscape relating to business and human rights.

It is they who are convincing senior management to take the topic seriously. It is they who are convincing the Boards that doing the right thing costs little to positively affect public and commercial perception and thereby build long-term business confidence. Meantime, the increasing requirements for non-financial reporting are reinforcing the emerging obligation to engage, implement and report upon measures taken relating to human rights in business.

As highlighted by the work undertaken by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in London, the number of commercial business enterprises who are acknowledging the need for such essential corporate responsibility measures to be implemented and reported upon within their respective business structures, is increasing year on year. BP is clearly taking this topic seriously.

So what are the key points one should take away from the current BP position?

1. An overt and explicit company Human Rights opening statement “We are committed to conducting our business in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of all people.” Clarity. It puts the marker down.

2. The articulated commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. It sets the policy standard.

3. A company human rights policy outlining key commitments. It embeds the topic throughout the corporate management chain and business structure.

4. The existence of a company Code of Conduct. It articulates the need for and reinforces internal compliance.

5. The identification of areas of potential impact requiring risk analysis and human rights due diligence. It articulates that risk analysis is undertaken as part of human rights due diligence.

6. The explicit statement that the relevant sections of the UNGPs are implemented. It reinforces company policy.

7. The incorporation of a complaints system in daily business. It demonstrates a clear route to recognition of abuses and provision of remedy for addressing adverse human rights impacts with which the company may be involved.

8. Awareness and education throughout the company structure. It demonstrates that education is the key to understanding the topic and which should be open to all.

9. Human Rights clauses in contracts. It encapsulates the company policy and reinforces expected standards of behavior from suppliers in a form allowing for legal remedy if abused.

10. External auditing. The overt policies, commitments and articulation for the development of human rights engagement throughout the business allows for transparency and accountability for independent audits and assurance statements leading to in-house reassurance.

In short, the current stance being taken and developed by BP is one to watch.


The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.