Why legal rights matter for social enterprises 

JRS Knowhow’s latest project was creating an online module about legal rights for the Rural Social Enterprise Hub. We are a social enterprise working on raising awareness of rights and some of the team live and work in rural Scotland. So, it felt like a natural project. It made us really think about why rights matter. And how we can explain them clearly. 

There are so many buzzwords in business and a rights based approach is at risk of just being another buzzword. It isn’t exactly the same as an ethical approach, or a responsible approach to enterprise. It is related to, but not the same as corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance. The guide explains what rights are, where they come from and how a rights based approach relates to all of a social enterprises’ work from employment, partnerships, development and service delivery. 

12 reasons why legal rights matter to social enterprises 

It is easy to assume that legal rights are important because social enterprises’ employees and volunteers have rights. However, legal rights are more than just human resources topics like health and safety at work and the right to join a union. 

Here are eight more reasons why rights are important for social enterprises to think about: 

  1. It’s the law in the UK that social enterprises providing public services have to comply with laws like the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010 
  1. It improves peoples’ lives in the locality where we work by finding areas where legal rights are not working in reality and analysing the situation 
  1. It improves the products and services social enterprises deliver by making sure they work within laws and that our activities don’t have any unexpected consequences 
  1. It can help us get funding by centring and valuing people and our communities, aligning with the Scottish Government’s Fair Work First agenda and Scottish Business Pledge 
  1. It can make a contribution to national and global goals like Scotland’s National Performance Framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 
  1. It might reduce complaints by ensuring that we treat all of our collaborators, clients and colleagues with dignity, fairness and respect 
  1. It helps us communicate well at a time of increasing polarisation by reinforcing our common humanity 
  1. It will hopefully leave a better Scotland for the next generation, where the right to education and the right to a healthy environment are prioritised  for children and young people  

Not yet convinced that rights are important for your social enterprise? The regulators who have the job of checking whether the law is working in practice have powers to tell social enterprises whether their approach and policies need to improve. Here are four final reasons from regulators about why rights matter: 

  1. The Scottish Commission for Human Rights analysed businesses in 2017 and found that there were significant gaps and challenges in practice across Scotland 
  1. Taking a right based approach can help you assess and manage risks for social enterprises  
  1. Using a rights based approach can protect your social enterprise’s reputation  
  1. Analysing situations whilst thinking about rights can open up new business opportunities  

Reasons 10, 11 and 12 come from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), you can read their guide for businesses about human rights to find out more.  

An example of what social enterprises working with legal rights looks like 

Understanding whether you work directly on a legal right or indirectly on rights is tricky. Some rights are protected by law in different countries whilst some are contained in international treaties but not implemented in national law. There is lots of jargon. We might be working with a specific legal right without realising it. Or we might be working indirectly to campaign on a right, or to ensure people’s rights are realised in a process (advocating).  

Here is an example from our own social enterprise that illustrates how we work indirectly on legal rights. It shows how realising legal rights form part of our organisational vision and how raising awareness of rights is the social benefit we strive to deliver in Scotland. 

Our social enterprise JRS Knowhow works indirectly on all of the legal rights contained in Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010 and the UN International Bill of Rights. We work to raise awareness of rights and deliver educational activities across Scotland. Our aim is to realise a Scotland where people understand their rights and how to protect them and where organisations understand their legal duties to promote equality and rights. An example of our work to raise awareness of rights is our latest guide about the right to protest produced with Amnesty Scotland.   

Learn more about legal rights and your social enterprise 

Find our mini-module about what social enterprises need to know about legal rights on the Rural Social Enterprise Hub website. The module includes introductory materials about rights, practical case studies, materials to help you identify rights in your everyday work and further sources of reading and inspiration.   

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