Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. How do businesses affect human rights?

Businesses do not operate in a vacuum. Their activities can have a profound impact on individuals, communities and the environment. Research shows that businesses have the potential to adversely affect human rights—both directly and through ties to third parties that are violating human rights. These impacts are increasingly salient. For instance, businesses may affect rights through labor exploitation, discriminatory hiring practices, environmental pollution or the forced eviction of communities from their lands. For more information, please see the CHRGJ/Human Rights Watch February 2008 report On the Margins of Profit: Rights at Risk in the Global Economy and ESCR-Net’s Collective Report on Business and Human Rights, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2008.

2. What responsibilities do businesses have under international human rights law to ensure their activities do not negatively affect human rights?

States have the primary obligation under international law to protect people against human rights abuses by businesses and provide effective remedies to those adversely affected. Businesses and other actors, however, also have responsibilities. As the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights phrases it, "every organ of society" does. The declarations of various UN human rights treaty bodies and UN experts similarly confirm that businesses have responsibilities to—at a minimum—respect human rights by taking positive steps to ensure that their operations do no harm to human rights.

3. What is a human rights methodology?

A human rights methodology uses human rights law—as codified in international treaties and conventions—to analyze and assess business activity on the ground. This methodology frames a human rights abuse as it relates to international human rights law, rather than other sources of law or ethics. It generally requires information gathering about a human rights problem and drawing conclusions of fact from the information gathered (fact-finding). All reports found in the Database use a human rights methodology with reference to key international human rights law sources and based on first-hand investigations. For more information on the key international human rights law sources used in the database, visit the Database Methodology page.

4. Businesses can have a positive impact on human rights. Why do you only focus on their negative impact?

Our focus on the adverse effects of business activities does not deny the positive impacts of the private sector. Businesses can generate employment, produce needed goods and services, create wealth and conduct philanthropic activities, among other benefits to society. Nevertheless, in acknowledging this we cannot lose track of the fact that businesses can also adversely affect the enjoyment of human rights. Our aim is to raise global awareness about the relationship between business activities and human rights and to support efforts to ensure greater accountability for business-related abuses. Where available, we also include business responses to allegations of abuse.

5. Why do you focus on businesses when governments are typically considered the worst human rights violators?

Worldwide, businesses have become increasingly powerful social actors, reaping the benefits of economic globalization. But their rise in power has not been matched by the development of effective mechanisms to hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses resulting from their activities. Although states retain the primary obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, we believe that the increased influence of private interests on the public sphere and people’s lives should be accompanied by the clarification and further development of international human rights law to hold businesses accountable and protect individuals, communities, and the environment from business-related abuses. While state human rights responsibilities inevitably arise in connection with business activities, our main focus is the human rights impacts of business activities themselves.

6. How does B-HRD contribute to the business and human rights field?

B-HRD contributes to the business and human rights field in a number of ways. Our In Focus section highlights particular situations of abuse and the actual strategies used by human rights defenders to hold businesses accountable. Our human rights report Database was designed using the provisions of the nine major international human rights treaties and eleven key International Labour Organization conventions. The B-HRD Human Rights Framework provides a conceptual basis for understanding the full spectrum of widely recognized human rights directly and indirectly affected by businesses across industries and regions. Each report included in the Database is individually reviewed and analyzed prior to inclusion, and users are able to search reports by specific rights affected, among other categories. Finally, our Tools and Strategies Forum offers a platform to exchange tools, resources, and advocacy strategies to help prevent business abuse and ensure justice when harms have been done. For more information on the B-HRD Project, click here.

7. Where else should I look for more information on business and human rights?

For a clearinghouse of news, reports and case analysis on companies’ positive and negative human rights impacts worldwide, visit the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. The website is updated hourly.

For information and all submissions related to the work of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Business & Human Rights, visit here.

8. How do you choose reports for the B-HRD Database?

We use a strict methodology to select reports for the B-HRD Database. For inclusion in the Database, all reports must be published by organizations or individual authors with a credible methodology for documenting human rights violations. The reports must be the result of first-hand, on-site investigation and must describe a discernible business impact on human rights. In addition, the reports must utilize a human rights methodology to analyze the business impacts. For more information on selection criteria, click here.

9. How do you make sure the reports in the B-HRD Database are credible?

We strive to only include reports that originate from organizations and individual authors with a reliable history or methodology of documenting human rights abuses. To allow users to assess the strength of the report’s credibility, we also list, where available, the research methodology used for each report in the Database.

10. How do you select the documents you use in the In Focus section?

As with the B-HRD Database, we use a strict methodology to select sources for the In Focus section. One or more reports contained in the Database form the primary material for the In Focus section. The reports are supplemented by interviews with relevant actors when possible and with secondary materials, including press releases, urgent action messages, letters from civil society and individuals, NGO-authored reports (not otherwise selected for Database inclusion), news reports, business responses, case law and other legal documents, maps and multi-media sources and business industry information. To select secondary materials, we consider their relevance, timeliness, credibility, and ability to enhance comprehensiveness of information about the particular situation.

11. How often is the B-HRD Database updated?

The B-HRD Database is regularly updated. It may take a few weeks for a report submitted for consideration to appear in the Database, because all submissions undergo a work-intensive screening process. During this screening process, reports are checked against selection criteria. If eligible for inclusion, they are then analyzed and incorporated into the Database.

12. How should I cite documents located in the B-HRD Database?

Reports found in the B-HRD Database should be cited using the report information itself, according to customary citation standards. All other content on the B-HRD site should include the URL along with the names of the co-founding organizations. For example, the correct citation to the B-HRD home page would be: Center for Human Rights and Global Justice & ESCR-Net, The Business and Human Rights Documentation Project, (last visited Dec. 10, 2011).

13. Do you represent clients?

No, we do not provide legal counsel.

14. How can I submit a report to B-HRD?

To submit a report, please click here.

15. How can I get involved?

To get involved, please click here.


Accommodations of migrant construction workers in Abu Dhabi, who often face exploitative labor conditions and broken promises of wages.

© 2008 William Van Esveld/Human Rights Watch