Best practices

As the BHR legal and non-legal landscape continues to evolve, businesses and business law lawyers should consider and manage BHR risks as they do any other legal, regulatory and operational risks.

This section emphasizes best practices that will enable lawyers and their clients to decide when business activities or relationships pose too high a risk to human rights, or when situations require mitigating measures.

The objective is not to provide examples of situations that cross any threshold. Those will be apparent if the right processes are in place and adhered to throughout an organization. Ultimately, businesses will have to decide for themselves when to seize or pass on an opportunity or relationship, and when to impose or augment safeguards to protect human rights.

The fundamentals of BHR compliance are derived from corporate governance and risk management practices already familiar to business law lawyers. The key components of effective management of BHR-related risks include:

Governance Structure. A BHR compliance system requires effective board level oversight of all BHR-related risks as a legal and strategic imperative. Mechanisms should be in place to escalate as necessary and mitigate BHR-related concerns.

Policies and Procedures. Businesses should establish and publicly communicate a high-level corporate commitment to respect human rights. Businesses should adopt and implement supporting operational-level policies and procedures that apply throughout their business, supply chains and other third parties consistent with the expectations of the UNGPs. 

Policy commitments should not be generic, vague or drawn directly from what other companies have in place. The responsibilities that the business undertakes should be clearly articulated in written policies, align with what the business is doing throughout its operations and reflect what can be realistically achieved. These responsibilities should be in accordance with the operational principles of the UNGPs.

Policy statements may give rise to an assumption of duty in law with associated litigation risk. Businesses should therefore ensure that the responsibilities they undertake can be efficiently and fully discharged with a focus on processes and systems that seek to identify, mitigate and prevent adverse human rights impacts, rather than to guarantee internal outcomes.

Human rights impact assessments and due diligence. Due diligence is the operational tool for businesses “to identify, prevent, mitigate and account” for adverse human rights impacts. Due diligence should not be approached in a transactional manner. The UNGPs mandate “continuous” due diligence that requires a business to regularly assess the effectiveness of its policies and procedures in mitigating adverse human rights impacts.

Many businesses are already familiar with and perform due diligence in relation to other issues, such as anti-bribery and corruption. A key component of human rights due diligence is that it is outward looking – seeking to ascertain how a particular activity or transaction will impact others, and not what the impact on the business will be.

UNGP 23(c) specifically addresses the management of the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses including slavery by mandating that businesses treat these risks as a legal compliance matter. A business should operate on the assumption that the organization and its directors, officers and employees, may be held legally liable for causing or contributing to human rights abuses.


In order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. 

UNGP 23(c)

In all contexts, business enterprises should:

(c) Treat the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue wherever they operate.

Training. Organizations must offer training, including specialized training tailored to the responsibilities and job functions of employees, directors and officers, and business partners.

Third Parties – Business partners’ conduct. As highlighted in Section Business Partners' Conduct, businesses have both direct and indirect human rights obligations. Care should be taken when dealing with potential and actual business partners to ensure appropriate due diligence and oversight. Businesses should also ensure that they understand their contractual commitments. Reporting issuers, particularly those with global operations, are increasingly inserting flow-down contractual clauses in supply agreements. Businesses engaged in public procurement processes in Canada and elsewhere, are increasingly required by governments to certify that their supply chains are free of forced labour and child labour.

Disclosures and reporting. With a mix of mandatory, stakeholder (including investor) driven reporting requirements globally, businesses need to manage their BHR-related (and more broadly, ESG) disclosures. There are established reporting frameworks and standards for reporting sustainability performance which incorporate the UNGPs.

Grievance mechanisms. UNGP 29 requires businesses to establish grievance mechanisms at the operational level to provide a remedy where their operations have caused or contributed to human rights abuses. If there is a potential for litigation arising out of a claim for remedy, mechanisms should be in place to ensure legal review and oversight. Grievance mechanisms must be known and accessible to intended stakeholders. A hidden "contact us" button on a website in a language unknown to workers will not satisfy this requirement. UNGP 31 sets out criteria for an effective grievance mechanism, both State-based and non State-based. Grievance mechanisms must be legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights compatible, and a source of continuous learning.

Access to Remedy – UNGP Pillar 3

Individuals or groups whose human rights have been violated through business operations must have access to a remedy. The UNGPs state remedies can be accessed through state-based judicial or non-judicial processes, or operational level processes that do not have to involve the state. "Part V: Business and Human Rights in Canada" discusses Canada's efforts to provide state-based mechanisms for access to remedy.

Operational level grievance mechanisms have a particularly important role to play in providing access to remedy. This is because many state-based processes can be costly, lengthy, and procedurally cumbersome. Each of these creates a potential barrier and deterrent for victims.

In contrast, operational level grievances can be flexible, respond to particular incidents, and take place locally without needing to engage costly transnational procedures.

What matters most is that individuals or groups have access to a remedy and that the remedy is effective. The UNGPs clarify that remedies can take various forms, such as apologies, restitution, compensation, punitive sanction, or injunctions.

The requirement for a remedy to be effective should dictate the structure, process, and outcome of any grievance mechanism a business establishes or participates in. The objective is to remedy a wrong, not to make a problem go away. In remedying the wrong, businesses must appreciate and account for the frequent power imbalance between them and local communities, who may lack resources or a singular organizational structure. This means businesses must not impose their will on the grievance mechanism's structure or operation. Effective grievance mechanisms require the participation of victims or their representatives at all stages. For operational level grievance mechanisms, UNGP 31 requires they be based on engagement and dialogue with the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended.  This ensures a grievance mechanism process can adequately address the human rights violation and provide victims with an effective remedy, leaving all parties involved with a sense of closure.