Corporate responsibility (CSR)

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Companies are responsible to ensure and respect human and labour rights in their respective supply chains. The UN defines human rights due diligence within the UN's guiding principles on business and human rights. Germany has transferred these guidelines and recommendations into national law - but so far the so-called national action plan has not met the expectations for improvements along the supply chains.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

According to the EU Commission, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) refers to the "responsibility of companies for their impact on society". CSR refers to the three pillars of sustainability and thus encompasses ecological, economic and social aspects of corporate action. The fulfilment of this responsibility is interpreted as a voluntary contribution to sustainable development. The basic references for sustainability requirements are primarily the ILO Declaration of Principles and the OECD Guidelines.

Different companies interpret the term CSR differently: It is used in philanthropic projects, e.g. when sponsoring a local football club, or in capacity development, e.g. when training suppliers on establishing social and environmental standards. Often image cultivation and good PR are the driver for companies to tag actions like these as CSR.

It has to be understood that CSR is directly linked to issues of credibility and compliance

International guidelines:
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

UN Leitprinzipien als Grafik mit drei Säulen

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a global standard adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 to prevent and remedy human rights violations related to economic activity. The guiding principles are based on three pillars:

  1. The duty of the state to protect human rights
  2. The responsibility of companies to respect human rights
  3. Access to judicial and extrajudicial remedies for human rights violations

Source: Wirtschaft und Menschenrechte. Hrsg: CORA, 2014, S.2,

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: An Introduction

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Human rights due diligence of companies

The second pillar of the UN Guiding Principles is corporate responsibility for respecting human rights. A central element is the human rights due diligence of companies. It contains the following elements:

  • Policy statement: The development of a corporate policy that integrates respect for human rights into decision-making processes throughout the entire corporate structure;
  • Risk analysis: The continuous analysis of the impact of its own activities and business relations on human rights with the involvement of the concerned civil society;
  • Action and effectiveness control: The taking of effective countermeasures to remedy and redress grievances;
  • Reporting: The establishment of a communication structure that enables external stakeholders to assess the effectiveness of countermeasures taken, as well as complaint mechanisms;
  • Complaints mechanisms:  The establishment of mechanisms that are accessible to those concerned and provide effective redress.

Read on in the following blog :
Due Diligence vom Business & Human Rights Resource Centre


National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement the UN Guiding Principles

The UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights are merely recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council and are not legally binding. However, the UN Human Rights Council called on the member states to adopt corresponding national action plans (NAPs). The European Union announced the recommendations of the guidelines in the European Commission's CSR Communication to all its member states. Additionally, the report on the European Human Rights Strategy in November 2012 and the declaration on UNGPs of the EU Council of Ministers in April 2014 refer to these recommendations.

Germany’s National Action Plan

On 21st December 2016, the German government adopted the NAP for Business and Human Rights but without any legally binding elements. Hence, it is falling short in comparison to the  the action plans of other countries. The UK (anti-slavery act), France (Loi sur le devoir de viligance) or Holland (law against child labour) have shown more resolve in this respect. Two years of implementation of the NAP show inconsequential progress in key areas of the state's duty to uphold the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights, e.g. foreign trade promotion, public procurement and trade agreements.

According to the NAP, a monitoring procedure with interviews of large companies aims to determine whether the companies are voluntarily implementing human rights due diligence. If it should turn out that this is not the case in at least half of the companies surveyed, the government promised in its coalition agreement to introduce a legal regulation. However, it makes the appearance that the Chancellery and the Federal Ministry of Economics are trying to prevent a legal regulation.

 In the meantime, however some companies such as KiK or Tchibo are doing the right thing and advocating for a legal regulation.



Further information