Human rights and business



By now, news that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has been allocated a P1,000 budget by the House of Representatives has reverberated around the country. This budget is apparently a token amount, and lawmakers who voted against it said the measure effectively abolishes the constitutional body that exists to protect citizens’ civil rights.

One may think it is but right to abolish the CHR on the grounds that amid all the fatalities being reported as a result of the government’s drug war, it hasn’t done its job properly in light of such killings. But violation of human rights could also happen with the way employees are treated and the way business is done both here and abroad.

The concept of sweatshops – dismal working conditions and pay, as well as the hazardous working conditions – generated a lot of media coverage in the ‘80s, showing the deplorable environment and circumstances under which the products sold in global markets were manufactured.

Other human rights abuses that were committed in the two decades that followed drew enough public attention so that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was crafted. Companies are expected to adopt it to ensure the protection of their employees.

Leading the original initiative was a professor and consultant at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, aJohn Ruggie, who created the framework of human rights in business in 2008 around three pillars: protect, respect and remedy.

Perhaps the most relevant to the country right now is the first one: protect, which concentrates on the government’s duty to protect people against human rights abuses linked to businesses.

Thus, the expectation for any business is to provide a workplace that complies with the standards of these Guiding Principles, which may then be expressed and enforced by the local human rights agency. In this case it is the CHR, in its capacity to ensure the rights of every individual. The commission does this through government agencies such as the Department of Health, the Social Security System, the Department of Labor and Employment – to name a few.

One may ask how it affects people in the workplace, so here are a few ways by which businesses must protect the rights of every individual employee or client:

The right to privacy, for example, provides the individual a “right to be protected from arbitrary, unreasonable, or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence and from attacks on their reputation.”

Businesses that have a significant online presence, or one that requires user data – like your social media and credit cards for example – need to be able to protect the data provided to them, lest they be used to compromise the business. One of the famous examples of this is the Sony Pictures hack in 2014, which leaked the data of its employees, unreleased final copies of films, salaries, and even e-mails between its employees at all levels.

This is only one of the reasons why businesses insist on the use of secure connections and layers of authentication – all to ensure the protection of their employees, just as the CHR is in place to provide a secondary check against government agencies in place to protect workers from violations of their rights in the workplace.

Nonetheless, the token budget approved by the House of Representatives is not final, as Senate’s finance committee has approved a total budget of P678 million for 2018. This means that it is now up to a bicameral session to finalize the commission’s funding, which is due in the next few days.

If the commission fails to secure its funding, the individual employee’s rights may end up at risk. In labor cases where there are very few to help enforce the implementation of government-mandated benefits, such as being provided SSS and PhilHealth membership, for example.

These employees could be rendered unable to lobby for their return due to the dissolution of the CHR – who works in conjunction with the Department of Labor and Employment to ensure this never happens. While it may remain a conjecture at the moment, it is sobering to think just how much of one’s rights are protected by a single agency.

Miggy Castañeda writes about personal finance for, a financial comparison website aiming to help Filipinos save money through diligent comparisons of financial products.


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