Rachel Chambers works on human rights for the UN Global Compact. Her background is in law: she has worked as a barrister in private practice in London since her call to the Bar of England and Wales in 2002, specializing in employment, discrimination and human rights law. Chambers has recently completed a PhD at the University of Essex in the U.K. Her doctorate is on control and oversight over cross border activities from companies’ home states through extraterritorial techniques. Her research evaluates these techniques through an analysis of the dilemmas which are associated with each.
She is an adjunct professor at SOAS, University of London, where she convenes and teaches the course ‘Multinational Enterprises in a Globalizing World – Legal Aspects’. Chambers has held research roles at Monash University (Melbourne) and in a pro bono capacity for Amnesty International Business and Human Rights team. Before being called the Bar, she worked for corporate social responsibility body the International Business Leaders Forum.
Christopher P. Skroupa: In what ways are human rights standards for business evolving?
Rachel Chambers: The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact are derived from international norms and provide a universal standard for responsible business. The Human Rights Principles call on companies to:
- Support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
- Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses
In 2011, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were adopted by the Human Rights Council, providing conceptual and operational clarity for the two human rights principles championed by the UN Global Compact. The Guiding Principles reinforce the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact and provide an authoritative framework for participants on the policies and processes they should implement in order to ensure that they meet their responsibility to respect human rights.
Skroupa: Do the standards and expectations for companies vary based on the size of the organization?
Chambers: Human rights due diligence will vary in complexity with the size of the business, the risk of human rights impacts, and the nature and context of the business operations. However, all companies everywhere, regardless of size or sector, have a responsibility to respect human rights. And all companies can look for opportunities to support human rights. In the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 of this year, the UN Global Compact is supporting the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights campaign ‘Stand Up for Human Rights.’ We’re also organizing CEO Roundtables on human rights around the world in collaboration with our Local Networks. The first was held in Argentina and more are planned in the coming months in countries such as Turkey. Like the broader participant base of the UN Global Compact, the Human Rights Roundtables, will involve CEOs from small and large companies and a range of sectors.
Skroupa: In what ways must companies evolve as expectations increase?
Chambers: A key focus of our CEO Roundtables on Human Rights is moving from commitment to action. According to the 2017 UN Global Compact Progress Report, 90% of companies participating have human rights policies or practices in place, but less than 20% are conducting impact assessments. Closing this gap is critical to ensuring that business does its part to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed to by UN Member States in 2015. There is tremendous potential for business to contribute to positive change – especially for the most marginalized people across the world – by stepping up efforts to ensure that they conform with universal standards of conduct and ensuring that they take a principles-based approach to the Global Goals.
Rachel Chambers will be speaking on a panel entitled On Top of the World: Multinational Companies and Burgeoning Human Rights Expectations at the Reframing Human Rights conference in New York, NY on June 27.
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