Remedying human rights harms is a vital business responsibility. ISEAL’s new report highlights how sustainability systems help

Businesses and governments hold a vital stake in addressing adverse human rights impacts, but often struggle to act on remedy. Our new report shows how sustainability systems can advance accountability and support these efforts.

Addressing human rights harms 

In international human rights, remediation is a fundamental principle. When an individual or community’s rights are harmed, righting the wrongs should be swift and certain. 

Human rights accountability within business is gaining traction. But while much focus remains on preventing and mitigating human rights risks, remedying previous or existing harms demands stronger attention. 

Business activities can cause human rights harms in several ways. Remediation is important for two reasons – first to respond to affected individuals or communities and second to ensure business walks the talk on corporate sustainability and CSR. 

The key; remedying harms is crucial for both people and corporate accountability. 

Our research shows sustainability systems like standards play an increasingly vital role within remediation efforts, to the benefit of all. 

The UNGPs as a guiding framework 

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) provide a framework for governments and businesses to address adverse human rights impacts. 

Importantly, the UNGPs set out a role for state agencies and business enterprises in advancing remediation.  

The UNGPs also legitimise the role voluntary, independent initiatives play in meaningful remedies and outcomes. What matters is that good remediation demands collaboration.

In light of this, ISEAL is helping sustainability systems advance remediation thinking and solutions, to guide everyone with a stake in this vital work.   

After two years’ work our report is here, to help improve and share best practice across the globe.

Righting past wrongs: how can sustainability systems help? 

Our report shows there are a range of ways in which sustainability systems are helping businesses, governments and NGOs in the human rights remediation process.

First, voluntary sustainability systems offer remediation opportunities, by developing their own grievance mechanisms (GMs). Through standards, they also require that supply chain and businesses create operational-level GMs. 

The UN OHCHR Accountability and Remedy Project (ARP) notes open GMs are more trusted by harmed communities, who often fear or struggle to engage with business-run models.

Second, voluntary GMs aren’t constrained by borders. They play a key role in identifying and facilitating remedy for transnational harms.

And, GMs operated by sustainability systems offer an alternative route for rightsholders who neither want to engage with business-led grievance mechanisms for fear of retaliation, nor want to pursue judicial grievance mechanisms due to cost.

Voluntary GMs offer independent ways to hold site-level or company-level actors accountable for their responsibility to respect human rights.

Business benefits from remediation

One corporate alone cannot comprehensively address systemic rights risks. Using sustainability systems widens potential for remediation success. 

Sustainability systems and GMs also bridge capacity gaps for small to medium-sized enterprises at site or operational level.

Several ISEAL Community Members across agriculture, seafood, mining and textiles already hold human rights protection and remediation as a key area of focus. 

Other schemes are contemplating more action on remediation, responding to emerging supply chain rights violations. 

For these reasons, sustainability systems are exceptionally well-placed to support human rights work across business and policy. 

Advancing remediation with purpose

An undeniable opportunity exists, where voluntary tools support effective remediation efforts on human rights harms, enhancing corporate and policy practice.

With the support of the Accountability and Remedy Project (ARP) team, we have already led nine remediation dialogues including GMs, plus substantive work linking remediation and due diligence legislation. 

We expect proactivity from sustainability systems on global supply chain remediation. The direction of travel is set.

Now businesses and governments should deepen and expand sustainability systems partnerships.

Read the full report here.

Visit the human rights protection section of our website to find out more about ISEAL’s work in this space.

To discuss our work on remediation contact

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