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Taking action on Human Rights Day

December 10 is Human Rights Day – the 67th anniversary of the day that the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard for all peoples and all nations. The Declaration states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It also set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected, covering all aspects of a human life – civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

Progress in the field of human rights has clearly been made since then. Take children rights for example.

We have seen enormous progress in this area since 2000, especially respect to achieving the goal of universal primary education. The total enrolment rate in developing regions reached 91 percent in 2015, and the worldwide number of children out of school has dropped by almost half according to UNDP. Further, according to UNICEF, the global under-five mortality rate has decreased by 56%, from an estimated rate of 93 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 41 deaths per 1000 live births in 2016.

While it is important to acknowledge these achievements, we mustn’t forget that the situation for many children around the world remains horrific, with 5.6 million children under age five dying in 2016 – an average of 15,000 every day according to UNICEF. The ILO has also released a companion estimate of child labor, which confirms that about 152 million children, aged between 5 and 17, were subject to child labor. And many more human rights challenges remain.

I believe that the best way to cope with challenging human rights issues is to start where you stand. We need to ask ourselves – what can I/we do? Many actors have responsibilities and obligations to respect and guarantee our human rights. The most important one is states since they assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights.

Companies also have a responsibility to respect human rights, according to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. What can companies do? Ericsson, for example, has worked systematically to embed a human rights framework across the company and strengthen due diligence processes for several years now. Stakeholder discussions and collaboration with other actors is also important, which is why I am so pleased about the company’s announcement today, on Human Rights Day, that as of January 1, 2018, we will participate in the Global Network Initiative (GNI), the leading freedom of expression and privacy forum related to the ICT sector.

The GNI is a multi-stakeholder group comprised of internet, telecommunications operators and vendor companies, as well as more than 35 civil society organizations, investors and academic members. The group has created a collaborative initiative to protect and advance the internationally recognized human rights of freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. Together with this interesting mix of different stakeholders, we can share experiences and continue to drive positive change in challenging areas.

While each of us is entitled to our own human rights, we also have responsibilities when it comes to respecting the human rights of others. So coming back to what you can do. Maybe today is the day to become a member of that non-governmental organization that promotes human rights issues that you’ve always admired, or to sign up to volunteer to help vulnerable groups in your community. Or maybe it’s as simple as reaching out a helping hand to your disabled/lonely/elderly neighbor. Whatever action each of us chooses to take, large or small, the most important thing is to make sure we treat other people with respect. That small step would go a long way toward ensuring that we respect the human rights of others.

Written by Camilla Goldbeck Löwe

Camilla Goldbeck-Löwe is a corporate responsibility expert and human rights lawyer working at the Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Unit at Ericsson Group. Before joining the company, Camilla worked for the Swedish Government in different positions with human rights issues.

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