In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council developed the first international corporate guidelines for respecting human rights. These guidelines state governments enact laws to prevent employers from taking advantage of workers. On the flip side, companies should refrain from impacting human rights, even when the government has not mandated them to do so.
Human rights help protect freedom and dignity. In a country with established rights, an employee doesn’t have to worry about needs like privacy and personal security. While governments are responsible for keeping the private sector in check, companies can still violate some essential rights.
Top Human Rights Risks for the Logistics Industry
Several specialties fall under the umbrella of logistics, from shipping and trucking to railroads and aviation. Worldwide, more than 450 million people work in the supply chain. Within each sub-sector is a unique set of human rights risks and challenges.
Human trafficking occurs all over the globe, following the same routes as goods and passengers. These forced laborers work in hazardous conditions against their will or under threat of punishment. Always research where you do business to discover if it’s a known hub for human trafficking.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The logistics industry, filled with boats, planes, trucks and more, is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, a source of climate change. As the evidence of environmental impact becomes apparent, more companies are looking to make operations more sustainable and eco-friendly. Climate change will have more impact than raising the temperature — it will also reduce clean water and restrict food supplies.
Hazardous Waste Removal
A business that deals in hazardous waste — including its removal — must be extremely mindful of human rights risks, such as long-term pollution of air and water sources. Hazardous waste needs appropriate labeling to avoid contamination and citations. Companies should also maintain inspection logs to make sure containers are effectively storing the materials and comply with industry regulations.
One fundamental human right is the ability to complain about something without fear of repercussion. Workers need to be able to point out grievances, whether it’s too-long hours or overbooked schedules. Some companies have an employee hotline set up, where they can call in and voice their concerns. Others operate with a town-hall structure, where anyone can stand and speak freely.
In the male-dominated logistics industry, women and minorities sometimes face unfavorable treatment, such as more laborious work, longer hours, unfair hiring practices and discrepancies in pay. Companies who are mindful of human rights risks provide equal treatment to all employees, regardless of race, age, gender, religion or creed.
More than 168 million children are involved in child labor, with half working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Adults exploit and abuse these kids, denying them education and trapping them in lives of poverty. Unfortunately, many governments have failed to take steps to end child labor. Businesses contribute to this human rights risk by exporting crops and minerals children have harvested.
Collective bargaining, where workers can negotiate wages, hours and working conditions, is a well-known human right. However, in some countries, unions and work councils — which protect employee freedoms, including the power to bargain — are illegal. These countries pressure employers to restrict the voice of the workers, including their concerns over workplace safety and violations.
The logistics industry is rife with human rights risks. However, businesses can take steps to stay mindful of employees and comply with regulations.
How the Logistics Industry Can Take Action
When the UN Human Rights Council enacted its guidelines in 2011, they released a set of policies logistics companies can use to prevent, identify and respond to human rights risks.
Companies must implement a commitment to human rights, which weaves throughout all functions of business. A company policy should be clear and specific, with procedures on how to handle risks and ensure they will uphold fundamental rights for all workers.
Create a due diligence process to assess your current operation and address potential violations. Regularly monitor risks and face them head-on when you determine something is a threat to employee rights. Communicate openly with employees, management and shareholders about how you will mitigate any risks you discover.
One way companies can pinpoint possible human rights risks is to invest in a third-party auditor. This professional scours your business for potential violations and develops an improvement plan. Once an auditor has addressed an issue, your company must follow a public reporting process that summarizes steps taken to identify and remediate human rights risks.
These guidelines are voluntary — companies don’t have to put standards in place if the government doesn’t require it. However, even companies without legal responsibilities have made efforts to avoid human rights risks. Issues like climate change, environmental pollution and human trafficking are essential to today’s ethically conscious consumers, all of whom are aware of human rights risks.
Guest blogger – Megan Ray Nichols
Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance technical writer. She also runs her own blog, Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to making complicated scientific topics easier to understand. You can follow Megan on Twitter @nicholsrmegan to keep up with the latest news
Header photo: noipornpan – Getty Images