Where Do rights Come From & How Can I Find Out More About The Law?
Legal rights in social enterprise module
Where Rights Come From
Rights are owed to us simply because we are human. They are written down in international and national legal documents, like United Nations treaties and Acts of parliament.
What does this mean for social enterprises? Leaders often need to check for legal updates to areas like national employment, public health, privacy and tax law. Then these legal rights are often written down in organisational contracts, terms of service and organisational policies. For example, dignity at work, equal opportunities, modern slavery statements and complaints or whistleblowing policies.
Rights are checked, analysed and organisations are sometimes reminded of them by national human rights institutions. These institutions act as regulators, to check that the law is working and being correctly understood in practice. Regulators often have powers to take action to tell an organisation (including small businesses and social enterprises) to improve their practice and policies. Some regulators have funds for strategic legal action about discrimination and places where you can report discriminatory job adverts.
National law- for example UK law
- An example of a national law containing rights is the Human Rights Act 1998 in the UK, which makes the European Convention on Human Rights a legal requirement for public authorities and organisations providing public services.
Regulators – for example UK national human rights institutions
- Examples of regulators of rights include the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in the UK.
- The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions has a list of members, you can search to find the relevant regulatory if you are based in Europe.
How to Find Out About the Law
- The United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights written in 1948 is an international set of standards. Relevant articles for social enterprises include the right to be free from servitude, the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to join a union, the right to work and the right to rest and leisure.
- The UN also has several treaties that countries can sign up to. For example, to eliminate racial discrimination; advance civil and political rights; improve economic, social and cultural rights; protect children’s rights; ensure disabled people’s rights; and eliminate torture, other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
- The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ask both states and businesses to comply with the UN International Bill of Rights (which includes both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights) and the International Labour Organization’s declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (which includes the right to a safe and healthy working environment).
Regional law- for example European law
- The Council of Europe created the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1950, which makes the UN Declaration on Human Rights a legal requirement (or duty) for countries who sign it.
- The European Union (EU) has the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which applies to its member states in their actions and the European Commission is currently progressing a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. The directive would apply to companies based or working in the EU and mean that Directors must actively consider environment and rights impacts of their work and address any harms caused.
Reflection Questions and Further Learning
- Where are the relevant sources of international, regional and national laws that write down legal rights in your social enterprise context?
- Who is responsible for making sure that the law is understood and working in reality in your context?
- How will you stay up to date with changes in the law in future?
If you are new to rights and business, you might like to explore:
- Shift’s webpage giving an introduction to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which includes a brief history, videos explaining the principles and a frequently asked question section.
- This seven-minute introductory video on Youtube explains the importance of human rights to businesses, to ensure that rights risks don’t turn into business risks. It explains the UN principles and how to go about the due diligence requirements which are ongoing and not one off.
If you would like to learn more detail about rights and businesses these resources will deepen your knowledge:
- The EHRC website has more information about the UN guiding principles and resources for company directors, in the human rights and businesses section.
- The EHRC also has a guide to businesses and rights for employers, with six steps for respecting rights and nine human rights issues that are relevant for businesses including non-discrimination, a safe working environment and forced labour.