The role of business in human rights: view from Colombia

Human rights lawyer and 2015 Honouree Juan Andrés Cano has spent his career working with companies to understand how they can impact human rights in their business. The Founder of Peace Startup and Business and Human Rights has spent his career creating alliances with NGOs, the state, and companies. It’s initiatives like these that prove that #businessworthy entrepreneurial growth can happen globally, not just in Colombia.

Note: This article is also a YouTube video if you want to watch that.

How has the crisis impacted your work?

We work all over: Barcelona, Paris, Bogotá. In terms of daily work, we are not travelling anymore but we have maintained our team. Working with the issues related to Covid-19 is a good experiment with what we have been trying to do the past 15 years. We haven’t always talked about health care, but we are always talking about innovation and impact, on social inequalities and the environment. We all need to adapt to the global reality.

One of my companies, Semilla, is an asset-management company. We have the opportunity to raise money to help the potential for growth.

Image for post
Image for post
Juan Andres Cano (left) won the Award in 2015. Photo by Carl Christian Raabe.

Can you tell us about the Better Together platform that you’ve been working on in response to the pandemic?

There is a better way to work together! The idea of this platform is to understand how stakeholders are making alliances and partnerships with the community at the centre of the conversation. Partnerships with larger institutions can provide many top-down decisions, but we want to understand bottom-up alliances. We want to collect information and hopefully we can use this space to put communities together. This is the moment to unite and understand what is possible or how we can do it better. Urgency helps move the initiative forward.

Not a lot of people talk about the connection between human rights and business. What would you say to business leaders now about the importance of those responsibilities?

I am a lawyer. I studied law because through law we can fight for justice. Human rights are a kind of normative approach that has the potential to be global. Human rights are for all humans, but in reality, not all humans have their rights ensured.

Human rights have a lot of paths to work on. Understanding that companies have global impact, we can help them understand how to manage that impact. I am passionate about investors. They are the drivers of the companies and the possibility to leverage, if they understand that their investments can impact human rights in a positive manner.

Human rights framework can be used all over the world. Each country has different laws: Colombia, Mexico, and Norway all have different governments. But a company can say, “I am protecting life, I am protecting health.” We have a long way to go. Human rights and environmental issues are global. This is an opportunity to see that this needs a global business approach and maybe this can change the way that we govern the world and innovate to solve the problem.

How do you hope the world changes after this, globally and locally?

This experiment will help the global citizens to understand that we are all connected in the commercial economy. We are all worried for each other and we are proud of each others’ initiatives. We need to be aware about what is going on in people’s lives.

With this new scenario, we change the impact that the companies can generate. Maybe letting people work from home helps their employees. We are using Zoom, but from a human rights approach, it is on the cloud and hacking has been an issue. Maybe impact can be found in the supply chains and maybe the company’s needs change. This pandemic is generating new ways to work, collaborate and use technology in other ways.

The redesign of the economy needs capitalism. You need money to activate the economy. Investors should think that this is a NEW green deal economy. We need a green, socially equal deal. Or a green human rights deal. It is an opportunity to invest wisely. We need to maintain global business. This pandemic is controlled locally, but the perspective of the future is global. Think local, act global.

Want to get involved?

The Better Together initiative is looking for YOUR story, on what your business or community’s needs and priorities are. Share what initiatives you see and how they are being done.

“If you have ideas, come with them. We are very happy to work together, because we are better together!” as Juan says.

This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to covid-19 and has been edited for length and format. Watch the full interview here:

Business has to be about the greater good and not only about maximising shareholder profits. We’re here to encourage and inspire #businessworthy behaviour.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store