Honoring Human Rights is Essential


by Linda Fisher Thornton

Human Rights and Morality 

Business leaders have a clear responsibility to honor universal human rights. In their article The Moral Foundations of Ethical Leadership in the Values Based Leadership Journal, Hester and Killian remind us that “morality is inclusive, emphasizing human rights and dignity, respectful of diversity.”

Addressing Human Rights Risks

John Sherman, III, Harvard Kennedy School of Government believes that businesses must manage human rights risks along with other corporate risks.

“Is knowledge of human rights risks a company’s friend or its enemy? No one likes bad news, and messengers who deliver it may choose to do so gingerly. But it’s critically important for a company to investigate, understand, and act on facts – however unpleasant – that might pose real risks to it and its stakeholders in order to ensure that it addresses those risks.

If we have learned nothing else from the financial crisis, it is this – the failure by companies to understand and respond to the true nature and depth of their risks can devastate them and society. This principle is as true for human rights risks as it is for other company risks.”

John Sherman, III, Knowledge of Human Rights: Company Friend or Enemy? Institute for Human Rights and Business, ihrb.org

Ethical Leaders Protect Human Rights

There are universal guidelines for responsible business that describe the leadership responsibility for protecting human rights.  Using global guidelines (which include the UN Global Compact and the Caux Roundtable Principles for Responsible Business), we can evaluate our approach and learn how well we’re doing.  Use the following sources to assess how well you are honoring human rights in your organization.

Principles for Responsible Business

“The principles recognize that while laws and market forces are necessary, they are insufficient guides for responsible business conduct.”

“The principles are rooted in three ethical foundations for responsible business and for a fair and functioning society more generally, namely: responsible stewardship; living and working for mutual advantage; and the respect and protection of human dignity.”

The Caux Roundtable Principles for Responsible Business, cauxroundtable.org

The UN Global Compact

“The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rightslabour,environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary driver of globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.”

The UN Global Compact, unglobalcompact.org

United Nations Human Rights

“The responsibility to respect human rights is not, however, limited to compliance with such domestic law provisions. It exists over and above legal compliance, constituting a global standard of expected conduct applicable to all businesses in all situations. It therefore also exists independently of an enterprise’s own commitment to human rights.”

United Nation Human Rights, The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide, business-humanrights.org

The Netter Principles (Inclusion)

“In an inclusive organization, visible and invisible heterogeneity is present throughout all departments and at all levels of responsibility. Human differences and similarities are welcomed, valued and utilized at all levels across all formal and informal organizational systems.”

The Netter Principles, A Framework for Building Organizational Inclusion, The Workplace Diversity Network, cornell.edu

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, un.org

Ethical Leaders Honor Human Rights

As leaders, we are expected to protect human rights in all that we do. In our quest to lead responsibly, we must continually consider the question “How do we need to change in order to better honor human rights?”

If you are in the process of developing a corporate human rights policy, A Guide for Business: How to Develop a Human Rights Policy (UN Human Rights, Global Compact) is helpful in beginning the discussion.

Related Leading in Context® Blog Posts:

Leadership and Human Rights

Ethical Leaders Care and Ethical Leaders Care Part Two: In Action

Assessing Corporate Ethics


For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Civility and Openness to Learning


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Author’s Note: In a previous post, Civility is an Ethical Issue, I explained why civility is an ethical issue. In this post I’ll explore the connection between civility and openness to learning.

Moving From Tolerance to Civility 

It seems that “civility” has come to mean something closer to the word “tolerance” in everyday conversation. Civil behavior now seems to imply an aloof stance that doesn’t step directly on anyone’s toes. But that is not nearly enough. According to W. Jason Wallace, we should be “moral agents” who “share moral relationships.”

The 21st century debate over civility, whether involving politics, religion, economics, or education, will have to confront the difficult problem of what it means to be a moral agent who shares moral relationships.  To this end, shallow conceptions of civility as manners or civility as tolerance must deepen to include civility as the cultivation of virtuous habit and the right ordering of human goods.

W. Jason Wallace, Ph.D., Samford University,  Civility: What Does Civility Mean in the 21st Century Debate?, Alabama Humanities Review

Listen to Learn

How do we build moral relationships? One way that we do that successfully is to be open to the ideas of others, and to other world views. When we disagree with someone, it is responsible to listen to them, and to see what we can learn from their perspective. To be ready to listen and learn, we must acknowledge that we do not have all of the answers. Acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers helps us remember that other people’s ideas may be just as important as our own.

Ideally, we listen eagerly to other people’s points of view. At minimum, we need to show respect when we disagree. George Washington penned a list of Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation sometime before he turned 16 years old.  Number one on his list was:

“Every Action Done in Company, Ought to be With Some Sign of Respect, to Those That are Present.”

Washington, George. Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette. Williamsburg, VA: Beaver Press, 1971.

Admitting We Don’t Have All Of The Answers

Why is it that we disagree so strongly? Have we tried to understand their position fully? Have we remembered to be respectful and open to learning? Have we considered why they have that viewpoint? Have we thought about how their life experiences differ from ours?

When we are not open to learning, we can easily misinterpret another perspective that does not match our own as a threat. That perspective that we are actively arguing against may in fact reflect a more current, more advanced, or more ethical perspective than ours.

Failing to acknowledge that there are other perspectives on an issue (and that the people who hold them have a right to their views as much as we do) shows a lack of respect, and a lack of awareness about:

  • Individuality
  • Complexity
  • Innovation
  • Learning, and
  • Collaboration

There are Multiple Perspectives on Every Issue

Responsible leaders acknowledge that there are multiple perspectives. They wrestle with complex issues. They know that any one person having all of the answers is impossible. They know that behaving in a civil and respectful way is considered part of our human responsibility.

As moral leaders who are building moral relationships, we must: step back far enough to realize the limitations of our own knowledge; commit to understanding other perspectives that go against our own views; encourage civility and respect; and stay open to lifelong learning.


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

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