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What are Human Rights?

The common standard for human rights is spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948. It calls on all nations, individuals, and every organ of society to promote respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, and to strive for their universal observance. These rights include civil and political rights – free speech, assembly, and association and due process of law – and economic, social, and cultural rights – rights to basic human needs and a decent workplace. The rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are implemented in multiple international human rights treaties as well as through national laws and institutions. The Universal Declaration established the principle of universality: everyone has these rights by virtue of their humanity.

While the primary duty to protect human rights falls to governments, businesses also have an important role to play. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously adopted UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which affirm that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights. Defining what the “responsibility to respect” means and how it applies in practice is a primary goal of the center. The Center will help develop rules of the road for business with respect to human rights, including by focusing on the development of common standards and means of implementing those standards in specific industries, including the following:

  • Manufacturing: Ensuring that workers, especially those in low-wage industries, have a safe and secure working environment.
  • Oil and mining: Protecting the security of workers, communities, and assets, especially in conflict areas.
  • Information and communication technology: Ensuring privacy rights and the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression in a rapidly evolving technical and data-driven landscape.
  • Agriculture: Preventing the use of forced and child labor, especially on small farms in poor countries producing crops like  coffee, cocoa, sugar, and cotton.
  • Investing: Accurately defining risks related to human rights and defining the social component of socially responsible investing.

Contact the Center

Find Us:
Stern School of Business
New York University
Business and Society Program Area (BSPA)
40 W 4th St, Suite 400
New York, NY 10012
Travel Directions


Reach Us:
(P) 212-998-0722
(F) 212-995-3554
NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights:
Tara Wadhwa, Assistant Director: