New Assurance Guidance Puts Human Rights at the Heart of Corporate Governance Debate

Also see: Shift’s reporting expertiseUNGP Reporting Framework

September 19, 2017 — As businesses become increasingly accountable for their wider impact on society, Mazars and Shift today launch comprehensive Assurance Guidance on human rights, for the first time giving businesses a clear direction on how to assess their human rights credentials in line with international standards.

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This Assurance Guidance helps expert practitioners ensure that their work plays a valuable role in advancing the protection of workers, communities and other groups affected by business activities – thereby protecting and creating value for the business in the medium to long term.

Developed over several years by international accountancy and advisory firm, Mazars, and leading business and human rights non-profit Shift, the Assurance Guidance supports the 2015 UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, the world’s only reporting framework for companies that is wholly aligned with the authoritative UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The guidance will help internal auditors to assure companies’ human rights performance, and support external assurance providers as they oversee the assurance of companies’ human rights reporting.
Corporate governance has become a clear focus of governments to address unethical behaviours in business.  A business that understands and reports knowledgeably on its human rights performance is likely to be ahead in its responsibilities around corporate governance.
In the two years since the launch of the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, it has been embraced by leading companies, governments, investors and civil society organizations as a critical tool to help companies improve their human rights risk management, and show greater transparency and accountability. It has been formally recommended by numerous governments in guidance to companies. Leading businesses including Unilever, Citi, Ericsson, H&M and Microsoft have publicly stated that it has guided them in their internal risk management and reporting.
Professor John Ruggie, author of the UN Guiding Principles, comments, “Today, any company that wishes to demonstrate either its own sustainability or its contribution to sustainable development, must show how it is driving respect for human rights across its operations and value chains. Independent assurance has a vital role to play in enhancing the credibility of what the company’s Board is told – and tells others – about its risks and performance.”
Richard Karmel, Head of Human Rights Services at Mazars, said: “The EU now requires company boards of all EU public companies with over 500 employees to know how their organizations are identifying and addressing risks to human rights. Their investors, their customers and their employees have a right to know about the progress they are making: it is no longer enough to say ‘I wasn’t aware.’
“Such demands make internal audit and external audit assurance functions more important than ever. Importantly, the Global and Chartered Institutes of Internal Auditors have given full backing to this Guidance. As professional advisers, we can no longer skirt around the issue of human rights, but must instead integrate it effectively within our professional skill sets: this Guidance will help make that possible.”
Caroline Rees, President of Shift, explains: “This Assurance Guidance helps expert practitioners ensure that their work plays a valuable role in advancing the protection of workers, communities and other groups affected by business activities – thereby protecting and creating value for the business in the medium to long term.”
She adds: “Companies cannot gamble. There are significant risks to corporate business reputation, continuity and opportunity if companies ignore their record in human rights – whether in their own operations or across their entire supply chain. The only real defense for business is to have appropriate, effective procedures in place.”

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See more about the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (RAFI) here.

Open Letter on Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals

The complete letter is published on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website and is signed by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, Oxfam International and Shift.

Also see: Our short framework for action for any company seeking to contribute to sustainable development

September 13, 2017

An open letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and United Nations Private Sector Forum 2017 Participants:

As global business, government and civil society leaders convene for next week’s United Nations Private Sector Forum to discuss financing the 2030 Agenda, it is difficult to overstate the challenge that has brought them together. Ensuring the eradication of poverty through sustainable, climate conscious, and rights-respecting global development is an ambitious universal agenda. We urge participants to ensure that respect for human rights is an integral part of all actions towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs “seek to realize the human rights of all” and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is explicitly grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties, among other instruments. The Agenda emphasizes the critical role that human rights play in the achievement of sustainable development in all its three dimensions – economic, social and environmental.

To put this in context, between 21 and 48 million people are estimated to work in forms of modern slavery; around 85 million of the estimated 168 million child laborers are in hazardous forms of work; and more than 2.3 million people die annually as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases. Poor communities lose livelihoods, access to healthcare and clean water when land is taken or used without respect for their rights in the name of agriculture, construction, mining and other activities. Ending such abuses would enable these people to live their lives with dignity, with improved access to education, medical care, food, and many other SDG targets.

Businesses must put these realities at the heart of how they define their contribution to Agenda 2030. Doing so represents the private sector’s single biggest opportunity to advance human development today…

Read the complete letter here.