Human Rights Guidance Tool for the Financial Sector
Human Rights Issues by Sector

Case Studies

September 2014, UK: The Equality and Human Rights Commission has suggested that employers in the commercial cleaning sector were not meeting basic responsibilities towards their workers, such as those related to timely payment, paid leave for holidays and sickness, and ensuring grievance processes. More...

May 2011, China: A four-day strike by truck drivers protesting against higher costs reducing their earnings took place, despite it being weakened by lack of a trade union or any form of collective bargaining. More...


This is a very wide ranging sector. Services refers to a diverse range of activities including the following sub-sectors:

  • Domestic services
  • Employment agencies and call centres
  • Facilities management
  • Financial services
  • Health care
  • Information and communications technology (ICT)
  • Media
  • Professional services
  • Tourism, entertainment and leisure
  • Transport and distribution
  • Wholesaling, retailing and franchising

This briefing focuses on sub-sectors which pose the greatest human rights risk.

Key human rights related risks

These vary between sub-sectors, but include:

  • Low wages and long hours
  • Substantial use of migrant workers
  • Forced labour and child labour
  • Issues in the supply chain
  • Threats to livelihoods due to monopolisation of resources (including land and other natural resources depended on by local populations) and relocation of communities away from traditional means of living (for example by developing large scale tourist, retail or leisure facilities)
  • Reduced standard of living due to adverse environmental impacts
  • Censorship
  • Invasion of privacy by ICT surveillance

Examples of voluntary and trade initiatives

  • The World Indigenous Tourism Alliance is a global network of indigenous and non-indigenous communities that seek to give practical expression to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through tourism
  • The International Tourism Partnership is made up of international hotel companies and focuses on environmental and social responsibility in the industry. They have produced a position statement on human trafficking
  • The International Telecommunication Union, UNICEF and the Children Online Protection initiative have produced guidelines to strengthen online protection for children
  • A group of African NGOs has published the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms to promote human rights standards and principles of openness in internet policy
  • The International Labour Conference of the ILO: a convention on the rights of domestic workers around the world was adopted in 2010.

There are links to these initiatives in Resources.

Core Operations

Workplace conditions

Workplace conditions include factors such as working hours, wages, health and safety and disciplinary practices. Many Service industries are labour intensive and, as a result, the risk of poor employment terms and conditions is increased, including low wages, extensive overtime and the potential for forced or child labour. Migrant workers may comprise a significant proportion of the labour force. Particular sub-sectors of concern include:

  • Tourism, entertainment and leisure
  • Facilities management (including cleaning, catering, security)
  • Transport and distribution

Main issues for the services sector:

  • Low wages, which may not meet minimum wage requirements
  • Long hours, including involuntary overtime and lack of rest days
  • Children working long hours may be deprived of educational opportunities
  • Trafficking of workers, especially women and children, who are then forced to work, including in the sex industry
  • Migrant workers may be subject to degrading treatment and/or lack of equal opportunity for promotion, due to discrimination against workers from other cultures/races
  • This can also include discrimination with regard to working hours, proper training, housing conditions, access to health care or access to education
  • Migrant and immigrant workers can have their travel documents held by the employer as a condition of work. This restricts their freedom of movement and is a version of bonded labour. Workers are not free to leave their employment and may be living in very poor conditions, working very long hours and receiving low or no wages
  • The transport and distribution of hazardous materials by the transport industry (including chemicals and nuclear materials) can cause security and health and safety issues for workers and local communities

Controls and mitigants

  • Compliance with local/national law is the starting point
  • Even if local/national law, standards or enforcement are lower than internationally accepted good practice, a company should apply the same consistent and effective management practices globally (on workforce issues such as paying minimum wages, setting limits to overtime and giving guaranteed time off work)
  • Policies and procedures on anti-discrimination and equal opportunities, including the protection and welfare of migrant workers
  • Policies and procedures on employment and protection of children and young workers
  • Policies and procedures on prohibition of the use of forced and trafficked labour
  • Risk management plans for the transport and storage of hazardous materials, including driver training and awareness of risks; local community awareness and education.

Supply Chain

Companies face human rights issues and risks in their supply chain, as purchasers of goods and services from other companies/sub-contractors which may be associated with poor practice or controversy.

The supply chains within this wide sector are very varied, depending on the nature of operations. Many elements of the services sector are sub-contracted and the workforce issues for core operations also apply to the supply chain.

Main issues for the services sector:

  • Tourism, entertainment and leisure
    Sourcing of services for tourists may cause concern due to exploitation of workers (eg sex workers, security, transport, catering)
  • Facilities management / Dry Cleaning
    See Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals for relevant issues
  • ICT / Call centres
    Equipment may be sourced from factories where child labour is used and other working conditions are poor. There are also concerns that components, such as minerals, are sourced from countries in conflict and may be financing illegal military activity (See Mining and Metals).
  • Transport and distribution / Wholesaling, retailing and franchising
    See Infrastructure for relevant issues

Controls and mitigants

  • Ethical and environmental supplier screening policy covering labour relations issues, sustainable/ethical sourcing of materials and transparency/bribery. Suppliers should be aware of potential hazards and have systems in place to protect workers and communities
  • Site security plans ensuring appropriate security measures are in place and specifying remedial measures to be taken in the event of a major incident. This should include the provision of emergency water and food supplies to local community if usual sources are contaminated (for example by release of chemicals due to fire or explosion).


Some service sub-sectors have an impact on local communities, including:

  • Tourism, entertainment and leisure
  • Transport and distribution
  • Wholesaling, retailing and franchising

Livelihood and standard of living

This covers the rights to work, a fair wage and an adequate standard of living. These rights also support the realisation of other rights such as the right to health, housing, participation in the culture of the community, education and the right to a family life.

Main issues for the services sector:

  • Threat to life and livelihoods due to use of land and other resources previously depended on by local populations, for example the development of tourist complexes may over exploit local water supplies; occupy land previously used for agriculture; or use local fishing grounds for leisure developments
  • Relocation of communities away from traditional means of living
  • Reduced standard of living due to environmental impacts (including noise, vehicle movement, pollution, destruction of habitats and other resources)
  • Infrastructure and basic services (health, education, water) may be overstretched so some local people are unable to access these services

Local and indigenous peoples' rights

This covers issues associated with activities that impact on ancestral land. This includes: cultural heritage; the use of natural local resources; and damage to sites which form the basis of the identity of local and indigenous groups.

Main issues for the services sector:

  • Lack of free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous populations and/or lack of process to explore this can lead to arbitrary destruction of identity and livelihood
  • Violent, repressive and life-threatening removal of local and indigenous groups from lands. This may be facilitated by host governments which do not recognise indigenous groups or their rights
  • Lack of, or unfair, compensation arrangements or delayed payments
  • Revenues may be channelled by host governments to support the national economy or development agenda, which may not benefit local and indigenous people
  • Damage to cultural, historical or religious sites which form the basis of the identity of local and indigenous groups

Controls and mitigants

  • A stakeholder engagement plan to ensure full and effective consultation with all stakeholders
  • Recognition of existing communities' rights
  • Clearly defined procedures on the use of indigenous peoples' knowledge and resources, including payment, benefit-sharing or other consideration
  • Policies and procedures on conservation and sustainable use of finite resources eg: water, energy, land, which take account of local community need for these resources now and in the future
  • Policies and procedures to ensure free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities; ensuring that vulnerable groups are part of the consultation process and including a complaints mechanism for local communities
  • Policy and procedures on the relocation of communities, including measures on consultation, prompt and adequate compensation and continuation of livelihoods
  • Policies and procedures on the conservation of cultural, historical or religious sites which form the basis of the identity of local and/or indigenous groups.

Society and Governments

The main sub-sector of concern is Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Censorship and invasion of privacy

ICT is a powerful tool, helping to improve people's lives. But it can also be used to facilitate human rights abuses by governments and private companies.

Main issues for the services sector:

  • ICT may be used for monitoring and surveillance, by governments or private companies. This may be done by governments to control criminal or terrorist activity. However, it may also be used by governments wishing to monitor individuals or groups and private companies, especially media organisations, may use it to obtain and publish information
  • In some countries, access to some information may be blocked, limited or monitored
  • This may be discrimination against some sectors of society by government or may prevent people from gaining information about human rights abuses
  • It may also mean that people do not have information they need to make informed choices about work, health or other issues
  • People's right to privacy, freedom of speech, (virtual) assembly and information may be abused

Protection of children

Children may be exposed to inappropriate material on the internet.

Main issues for the services sector:

  • Children may see age-inappropriate material
  • Parents may lack skills to monitor children's activities
  • Equipment may not enable parents to control access

Controls and mitigants

  • Compliance with local/national law is the starting point
  • Even if local/national law, standards or enforcement are lower than internationally accepted good practice, a company should apply the same consistent and effective management practices globally
  • Policies and procedures on anti-discrimination and equal opportunities
  • Policies and procedures that recognise children's rights, pro-actively promoting their development whilst complying with international good practice and national legislation
  • Companies need to monitor how their services are used within a country and ensure that any agreements with host governments are appropriate and transparent.

See also the broader UNEP FI Environmental and Social Risk Briefing and Resources.


December 2014     United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative