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Foreword by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2013 update)

In recent decades, the roles and reach of business actors have continued to expand at a fast pace at the national, regional and international levels. As the role of business in society has grown, so too have the calls for business to respect human rights and be held accountable for abuses. At the same time, an increasing number of business leaders accept and endorse that business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights.

In June 2011, the Human Rights Council took a ground-breaking step when it unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, establishing an authoritative global framework for addressing the impacts of business activities on all human rights. The Guiding Principles provide substantial clarity on the respective responsibilities of States and business, as well as concrete guidance on how to meet these responsibilities. The Guiding Principles have rapidly come to be recognised as the key global standard for responsible business conduct, and have been endorsed by a wide range of States, international organizations, business enterprises, workers' organizations and civil society actors. They have been incorporated into global and regional governance frameworks, into national policies and legislation, into guidance by industry associations, and have been used for advocacy by civil society and labour organisations.

The Guiding Principles provide the substantive content of the commitments to respect human rights and avoid complicity in human rights abuses that companies undertake when they become participants of the United Nations Global Compact, a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices. As a multi-stakeholder leadership initiative, the UN Global Compact seeks to align business operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and to catalyze actions in support of broader UN goals.

To meet their responsibilities, it is critical that business actors understand the nature of human rights and the steps they are expected to take to respect human rights throughout their operations. The Human Rights and Business Learning Tool is intended to serve this purpose.

The tool aims to provide managers and staff of companies with essential knowledge and understanding of what human rights are, why human rights are relevant for business, and the key elements of what it means to respect and support human rights in practice. The tool explains concepts such as: making a policy commitment to human rights, the human rights due diligence cycle, and operational-level grievance mechanisms. It provides a foundation upon which companies can build the knowledge of their workforce about human rights and help strengthen the integration of human rights into their corporate culture and into their business relationships. I hope that this tool will be used by a wide range of enterprises, both within and outside of the UN Global Compact.

The understanding and integration of human rights in business practice will strengthen the positive role that business can play - both on its own and in partnership with the United Nations and other actors - towards a sustainable and inclusive global economy in which human rights are fully respected.
Navanethem Pillay