Human rights are inherent to all human beings. They are defined and established in more than 80 international legal instruments and define the fundamental protections of human dignity, needs, and freedoms, such as food, housing, privacy, personal security, and democratic participation. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the responsibility to protect human rights has primarily fallen on governments. Beginning in the early 2000s, however, it became increasingly clear that the freedoms enshrined in the framework could also be violated—and promoted—by the private sector. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the first international instrument to assign companies the responsibility to respect human rights.

The Guiding Principles state that companies must refrain from negatively impacting rights even when governments are failing to create or enforce necessary laws and that those victims of corporate abuses must have access to an effective remedy.

As part of this responsibility, the Guiding Principles require companies to actively identify and manage the negative human rights impacts that they may cause directly and those to which they contribute through their business practices and relationships. There are several key actions a company can take as part of this due diligence cycle: conduct a human rights assessment to determine which potential human rights impacts are most salient to their business, develop and publish a human rights policy to communicate expectations to stakeholders and business partners, ensure they have robust stakeholder engagement processes in place to support ongoing monitoring of potential or actual impacts and proactive action or remedy.

This issue brief identifies the 10 most relevant, urgent, and probable human rights impacts for businesses operating in the luxury sector. The information here is gathered from BSR’s direct engagement with luxury sector companies, as well as our 30 years of experience helping companies in all sectors manage their human rights risks.

The luxury sector comprises a wide range of businesses and activities, from manufacturing, including raw material production and processing, retailing, and distribution, to marketing and advertising of luxury goods. These include jewelry and watches, apparel, accessories, and eyewear.

While each of these different business activities will have its own human rights profile and challenges, this brief highlights universal risks for companies operating in the luxury sector. This spans the design and concept stage, sourcing and mining of raw materials ranging from cotton to exotic animal skins to gemstones, processing and manufacturing, packaging, and retailing, and disposal and destruction of unsold inventory, encompassing all the workers and local communities involved.