Business, Trade and Investment

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Business, trade and investment are central to the economic well-being of a society. As such activities impact a wide range of human rights, Departments and the NICS should be aware of the related human rights duties when exercising their functions.

The failure to provide adequate education and training opportunities may negatively impact an individual’s right to work. When developing policies, it is therefore paramount to understand the close links between different rights engaged in the sphere of business, trade and investment.



There are a number of obligations Departments hold directly, in particular where they:

  • Act as employers

  • Are providing goods, services and facilities

  • Adopt laws and policies related to individuals’ right to work, right to property or freedom of association.

Public Authorities 

In the majority of circumstances public authorities have a duty to protect individuals from private entities or persons. This requires Government to adequately regulate and set boundaries to what third parties are allowed to do or should do which is particularly relevant to public procurement processes. The duty to protect can include:

  • Protection from forced, child labour or other exploitation 

  • Protection from discrimination in employment 

  • Protection in accessing goods, facilities and services 

The government also has positive duties to:

  • Ensure women’s right to participate in economic life

  • Ensure healthy working conditions and everyone’s right to social security

  • Take measures to facilitate individuals’ participation in economic and social life

  • Ensure procedures to seek redress are in place where individuals allege their human rights have been violated or abused.

Wider Public 

In certain instances, the interests of the wider public and the economic well-being of the country may be counter to the interests of an individual.

1. Businesses may in certain instances also rely on human rights protections from the ECHR
2. In taking decisions public authorities should seek to strike a fair balance between rights and the interests of the parties involved. 


In 2012, the United Nations adopted a framework for addressing the human rights impacts of business enterprises called the UN guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

The UNGPs are based on 3 pillars that demonstrate the state duty to:

1. Protect people from human rights abuses by business
2. Hold the corporate responsibility of business actors accountable to respect human rights in all of their operations 
3.Uphold the right of individuals to gain access to remedy when their rights are abused by business enterprises 


The UK government has a National Action Plan for the implementation of the UNGPs throughout the UK and in Northern Ireland the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission facilities a multi-stakeholder forum to assist companies here in embedding human rights in their polices. 


Procurement and Human Rights 


Rights Engaged 

Right to an adequate standard of living
  • ICESCR, Art 11
  • UNCEDAW, Art 14(2)(h)
  • UNCRPD, Art 28
  • UNCRC, Art 27

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Right to social security
  • ESC, Art 12(1), 13, 14
  • European Code of Social Security             
  • ICESCR, Art 9
  • UNCEDAW, Art 11(1)(e), 14(2)(c)
  • UNCRC, Art 26

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Right to an effective remedy​
  • ECHR, Art 13
  • ICCPR, Art 2(3)
  • UNCAT, Art 14
  • ICERD, Art 6

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Right to freedom of association and assembly (including the right to form and join trade unions)
  • ECHR/HRA, Art 11
  • ICCPR, Art 21, 22
  • ICESCR, Art 8
  • UNCRC, Art 15

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Right to protection from discrimination in the work place
  • ESC, Art 1
  • ICESCR, Art 6
  • UNCEDAW, Art 11
  • UNCRPD, Art 27
  • ICERD, Art 5
Protection of property
  • ECHR/HRA,  Protocol 1, Art 1
Right to work
  • ESC, ARt 1, Arts 18-19
  • ICESCR, Art 6
  • UNCEDAW, Art 11
  • UNCRPD, Art 27
Right of women to participate in economic life
  • UNCEDAW, Art 13
Right to fair remuneration
  • ICESCR, Art 7
  • UNCRPD, Art 27
  • ESC, Art 4
Right to healthy working conditions
  • ESC, Art 3
  • ICESCR, Art 7
  • UNCEDAW, Art 11
  • UNCRPD, Art 27
  • UNCRC, Art 32
Protection from child labour
  • UNCRC, Art 32
Freedom from slavery and forced labour
  • ECHR/HRA, Art 4
  • ICCPR, Art 8
  • UNCRPD, Art 27
Right to participation
  • ICCPR, Art 25
  • ICESCR, Arts 13(1), 15(1)
  • UNCEDAW, Arts 7, 8, 13(c), 14(2)
  • ICERD, Art 5(e)(vi)
  • UNCRC, Arts 12, 31
  • UNCRPD, Arts 3(c), 4(3), 9, 29, 30