Human Rights Guidance Tool for the Financial Sector

What are human rights?

Human rights are basic rights that allow individuals the freedom to lead a dignified life, free from fear or want, and free to express independent beliefs. These rights apply equally and universally in all countries.

The internationally agreed standard is set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proclaimed in 1948 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

Governments of all 193 member countries of the UN have endorsed the UDHR - pledging to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and universal freedoms. The UN calls on every 'organ of society' - including business - to play a part in promoting respect for the rights and freedoms contained in the UDHR. These include:

  • The right to life, liberty and security of person
  • The right to freedom from torture and slavery
  • The right to recognition and equality before the law
  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • The right to property
  • The right to decent work
  • The right to rest and leisure
  • The right to an adequate standard of living

The International Bill of Human Rights forms the foundation for many laws, conventions and treaties on human rights. It has three parts:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets out the core human rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 covers civil and political rights such as the right to life, the right to body integrity, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association. (These are sometimes referred to as first generation rights.)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 covers economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to physical and mental health. (These are sometimes referred to as second generation human rights.)

There are multilateral, regional and bilateral treaties and conventions which further the rights outlined in the International Bill of Human Rights. Some relate to particular groups (such as children, women, migrant workers or indigenous peoples and minorities). Others relate to specific rights (such as freedom from discrimination). There are also 'soft law' instruments - these include voluntary international standards and guidelines on human rights.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has identified eight core conventions covering fundamental principles and rights at work. These are part of the Framework of human rights:

  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)
  • Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
  • Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
  • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
  • Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
  • Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)
  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)

The International Bill of Human Rights together with the eight ILO core conventions are the most authoritative list of internationally recognized human rights.


December 2014     United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative