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Shaping the future: The increasing influence of human rights on business

Sustainability has become one of the main points of attention for governments, investors, corporates and consumers alike – all of whom increasingly demand that environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are placed at the forefront of business activities and practice. This includes the social factors arising from a company’s relationship with other businesses and communities, such as considerations relating to diversity, human rights and consumer protection.
While the “S” in ESG was not initially a primary focus of policies, the last decade has witnessed a huge increase in legislation and standards addressing the adverse impact of business activities on human rights, causing both environmental and social considerations to become increasingly intertwined. Companies are facing ever-increasing standards to meet their responsibilities to respect human rights, with the legal framework for business and human rights evolving from authoritative soft law to specific binding legislation. Front and centre in this evolution is the emergence of ever further reaching supply and value chain due diligence. Unsurprisingly, there has been a proliferation of business and human rights lawsuits. 

In this contribution, published under the auspices of A&O Belgium’s Sustainability Flagship Project, we will analyse the most relevant current and upcoming BHR legislation and standards, assess some of the legal, reputational and financial risks that companies may face in the event of non-compliance with these current and upcoming obligations, and suggest an approach to mitigate and manage these risks.