Why human rights is a shared responsibility

This blog post originally appeared on the World Economic Forum website.

The World Economic Forum is anticipating a transformative Fourth Industrial Revolution, following earlier revolutions in mechanical production in the 18th century, mass production in the early 20th century and computer technology beginning in the 1960s. This fourth revolution will move faster, cut across different sectors and involve innovation of broad economic systems. The key question is whether it will improve our lives, for example by promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth on a global scale.

The central business district (C) is seen shrouded by slight haze in Singapore, August 20, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The central business district (C) is seen shrouded by slight haze in Singapore, August 20, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Professor Klaus Schwab has framed the issue clearly, stating  “the Fourth Industrial Revolution could deprive humanity of its heart and soul, or it could lift humanity to a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”

In the spirit of building this collective, moral consciousness, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Human Rights has just published the report: Shared Responsibility: A New Paradigm for Supply Chains. It proposes a coordinated response by global and local businesses, governments, international organizations, philanthropic groups, unions and other interest parties to devise collective solutions and share the financial costs of addressing the most entrenched human rights problems in complex supply chains.

Global supply chains are creating millions of new jobs, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. Yet at the same time there are frequent reports of chronic human rights challenges associated with supply chain operations that undermine sustainable growth. Simply put, these challenges are not conducive to good business. The shared responsibility model seeks to make visible and then address the underlying causes of the most serious, entrenched human rights risks and problems. It is premised on gaining a wide visibility of these problems over the entire supply chain. Achieving such visibility is critical to managing these issues. However, visibility does not equal responsibility; companies cannot and should not be held solely responsible for addressing the challenges in their supply chains.

The shared responsibility model is based on industry-wide rather than company-specific approaches. It assumes that financial costs and regulatory commitments must also be borne in part by developing and developed country governments, local and global companies as well as international financial institutions and private philanthropy. These challenges will never be addressed in a meaningful way if we put the burden solely on companies or governments acting alone. By acting together there is a much greater promise for a sustainable future for those working in global supply chains.

Human rights are the foundation of healthy, inclusive, sustainable and equitable business and for the effective relationships of all of those who are part of today’s global economy. Working together to overcome the challenges in global supply chains, we can promote inclusive growth by adopting a collective consciousness based on our shared humanity.

Shared Responsibility: A New Paradigm for Supply Chains is available here.


Mike Posner, Co-Director, Center for Business and Human Rights, Stern School of Business, New York University. Chair of Global Agenda Council on Human Rights. 

Marcela Manubens, Global Vice-President, Social Impact, Unilever. Member of the Global Agenda Council on Human Rights.