The 10th of December 2023, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This landmark document has served as a beacon for global justice and equality, articulating inalienable fundamental human rights every human shall have, irrespective of the conditions, situations and characteristics that comprise the singularity and diversity of human beings.
While the Declaration is not legally binding, it has shaped ethical national and international standards and international human rights law, becoming a global framework to protect and promote human rights.
In line with the inclusive and human rights approach advocated by the 2030 Agenda through the statement: “leave no one behind”, it is important to note that over a billion people are currently estimated to be living with a disability, constituting our planet’s largest – and most frequently overlooked – “minority” group. To ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are respected, the UN established the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006, noteworthy as the first specific document to comprehensively address the rights of individuals with disabilities and provide a framework for their implementation. Its goal is to guarantee that individuals with disabilities have equal access to human rights and opportunities.
Although the Convention delineates various responsibilities for governments, a significant section of its fundamental provisions refers to situations that may encompass businesses and other entities. Over the last years, increased attention has been given to the accountability of businesses regarding human rights impacts, including disability. For businesses, disability has steadily gained an increasing prominence as a cornerstone issue of both social sustainability and the protection of basic human rights. This positive shift has been accompanied by calls for greater transparency on how business and other entities provide equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and contribute positively to their workplace and social inclusion.
Additionally, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights plays a pivotal role in guiding businesses to establish a due diligence process to assess, prevent and mitigate human rights risks across their operations. By integrating these principles into their strategies, businesses not only contribute to a more fair and inclusive society, but also enhance their own long-term viability by fostering trust, mitigating legal risks, and cultivating positive relationships with stakeholders. In both the UN Guiding principles as well as in the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises, disability is recognized as part of the factors to be integrated in the approach to a responsible business conduct.
In the EU, a Directive on mandatory corporate human rights and environmental due diligence across global value chains, is in the process of negotiation, which is also expected to have significant impact beyond the EU´s borders.
Furthermore, ESG analysts are increasingly evaluating companies with additional metrics that go beyond the traditional social, environmental and governance indicators, placing a greater focus on companies’ broader sustainability performance including human rights within its own operations, as well as in the management of counterparties and suppliers.
As a result of these advances, businesses hold a pivotal and growing role in the achievement of a sustainable future. There is a growing recognition of the “S” in ESG, acknowledging that a company's impact on society is critical for its long-term success. Environmental and governance strategies are proven to be more effective when companies complement them with robust social strategies. The social dimension is gaining momentum with respect for human rights as a fundamental pillar. In this framework, sustainability shouldn’t be understood without disability-inclusiveness, universal accessibility and respect for human rights, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This text has been elaborated in the framework of the initiative Disability Hub Europe, co-funded by the European Social Fund, and whose partners include Fundación ONCE, L’Oréal, Dow, ILO Global Business and Disability Network, GRI, European Disability Forum and CSR Europe.
- The Sustainable Development Agenda. United Nations.
- UN Flagship Report on Disability and Sustainable Development Goals, UN, (2018).
- The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN, (2006)
- Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN, (2011)
- Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, European Parliament, (2023).
- The Rise Of The 'S' In ESG: Social Practices Companies Can Implement To Improve ESG Performance, Barnes & Thornburg, (2023)