Business and human rights in India

ETI's Dialogue for Change: Strengthening Business & Human Rights in India project is using partnership and collaboration to establish a roadmap to promote the development and implementation of a national framework on Business & Human Rights. The aim is to be in-line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) which was endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2011.

Read Dialogue for Change: Strengthening the Business and Human Rights Agenda in India

India is in a phase of rapid economic development. But the disconnect between business actions and the rights of citizens in India is clear, with many exploited workers lacking appropriate access to remedy.

  • An estimated 11.7 million (2013) people in bonded labour.
  • Communities displaced by, and livelihoods lost to intense resource extraction.
  • Child labour rife within many sectors.
  • Critically poor health and safety practices, endemic low wages and excessive working hours.

Yet the Indian constitution robustly supports human rights. India has recently legislated several rights-based laws with far reaching impact, including the Right to Information and Right to Education Acts as well as National Voluntary Guidelines released by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (2011).

Nevertheless, there exists a void where businesses – big and small – fail to understand their responsibilities to respect human rights, be due diligent in their operations or take necessary action.

The Dialogue for Change project has therefore brought together over 100 participants through consultations across four states in India.

The outcome of the Dialogue for Change consultations

The purpose of the consultations has been to understand and collate perspectives of different stakeholders – business, civil society, trade unions and government – on the existing landscape of responsible business management in India in alignment with the UNGPs.

Dialogue amongst business

A range of different businesses representatives across a variety of industries were involved in dialogue workshops in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai which sought to:

  • Inform participants of the UNGPs.
  • Collate viewpoints with respect to human rights impacts of business operations more generally.
  • Gauge the inclination of business towards a new framework on business and human rights in India.

Discussions have focused on the international framework on business and human rights (the UNGPs), India’s National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business, and the practical steps the business community is taking on corporate accountability.

The groups explored the different requirements and subsequent action taken in relation to international and national regulatory and voluntary frameworks. Issues faced by business whilst operating in India where shared and debated.

Examples, such as lack of clarity on acts and guidelines, lack of governance on implementation and enforcement, and bribery and corruption were among the mix.

The businesses presented actions taken by them to implement the UNGPs in their operations and supply chains. Improvements in due diligence procedures for own operations and across supply chains, along with improved supplier practices were prioritised, with the view that a multi-stakeholder approach is required for any change to occur.

Dialogue amongst Civil Society Organisations (CSO)

A broad mix of CSO representatives were involved in dialogue workshops in Delhi, Bangalore and Bhubaneswar which sought to:

  • Map the business and human rights landscape in India.
  • Understand what existing efforts organisations are currently involved in.
  • Agree the mechanisms that should be adopted to address business and human rights issues in India.

Discussions focused on the awareness and perception of business and human rights amongst business and government actors.

Existing legal frameworks were noted as being present, but criticised for poor implementation and monitoring. Opportunities for strengthening relations and cooperation among CSOs and business were also explored, and it was agreed that a wider set of stakeholders needed to be involved to address human rights nationally.

Dialogue for Change hosted a multi-stakeholder Business and Human Rights Roundtable in Delhi on the 17th March 2016. The conference focused on leading analysis, debate, discussion.  

Read our background paper and executive summary on India's National framework on business and human rights