How to Write a More Meaningful Update Report Under the French Duty of Vigilance Law

The countdown is on! If you handle reporting for a company covered by the French Loi relative au devoir de vigilance des sociétés mères et des entreprises donneuses d’ordre (the « Duty of Vigilance law »), you know it’s almost time to publish the first annual update on the implementation of your vigilance plan.  

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when preparing the report:

  1. You need to do better in 2019.

    Last year, Shift examined the human rights reporting of the top 20 largest companies in France, and concluded that, before the law came into force, the majority of those companies did not meet the expectations of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the global authoritative standard). This raises questions about whether they meet the requirements of the Duty of Vigilance law.

    We have begun examining the vigilance plans of those same 20 companies, and early results are consistent with our previous conclusion: most vigilance plans still have a long way to go.

    To improve, encourage your company to align its reporting and actions with the UN Guiding Principles. This can help you meet the requirements of the French law, while positioning the company as a leader on future compliance concerns. You can use the UNGP Reporting Framework’s straightforward questions for guidance.

     (Learn more about how the UNGPs and the French Duty of Vigilance Law are aligned here.)
  2. Clearly identify the company’s salient issues.

    The first step of the human rights due diligence process is to identify the negative impacts a company and its business relationships can have on people. All companies are expected (and, under the French law, required) to disclose their salient (i.e., most severe) human rights impacts. (Learn more about salient issues and why they matter in this video.)

    Prioritizing salient issues allows companies to focus resources on managing risks to human rights, and related risks to the business. When it comes to reporting, it’s also what investors and other stakeholders ­– including directly affected people – want to see companies disclosing.

    If your company hasn’t identified its salient human rights issues, explain any steps taken so far, and offer a preview based on the company’s experience and due diligence to date. After all, nothing is set in stone. As some challenges are met, others arise, and a regular salient issues evaluation will keep you on track. 
  3. Be transparent about where you are doing well, and where you’re falling short.

    Be confident about sharing breakthroughs; everyone needs examples of what works! Be precise about your procedures, initiatives and strategies for ameliorating your most severe human rights risks, and be forthright about things that still need more work.

    As in any other risk management process, no company is ever “done” managing human rights issues. The idea is to deliver authentic reporting by being transparent, demonstrating diligence and improvement through lessons learned, and sharing implementation challenges to contextualize the company’s efforts.

    You may not yet be able to demonstrate robust implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, but you can certainly convey your seriousness to your stakeholders with your commitment to transparency and accountability on human rights.
  4. Get inspired and encouraged by other companies and their journeys.

    Moving forward on the UN Guiding Principles and the French law can take time, but you are certainly not the only company trying to do so. Many companies in and outside of France have already begun pushing the boundaries on meaningfully acting and reporting on human rights issues. Companies like Unilever, ABN AMRO, ING, Ford, Ericsson, Microsoft, H&M, Nestlé and Newmont have made great strides in their efforts to improve their disclosure, publishing generally stronger and more transparent sustainability reports.

    To highlight one example in France, our early research shows that Orange made a significant jump in maturity from previous years. Orange’s vigilance plan is much more comprehensive and transparent than most of its peers’, making clear the company’s process for identifying its salient human rights issues, and implementing its obligations under the Duty of Vigilance law and its responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles.

    If reporting processes spark the right kinds of conversations inside the company and glean meaningful information, they become an integral part of how the company identifies and manages human rights risks. 
  5. View reporting processes as a risk management investment.

    If reporting processes spark the right kinds of conversations inside the company and glean meaningful information, they become an integral part of how the company identifies and manages human rights risks. This process can illuminate potential gaps in management, providing an annual opportunity to assess, redress and improve.

For more guidance, check out Sherpa’s new Guide de Référence pour les Plans de Vigilance , Elsa Savourey’s “Trois Recommendations pour Avancer”, and our most recent report  Human Rights Reporting in France: A Baseline for Assessing the Impact of the Duty of Vigilance Law”.

Most Canadian Mining Companies are Lagging When It Comes to Human Rights Reporting. Here’s Why.

The global mining industry is a large, profitable sector, with a particularly strong presence in Canada. Revenue from the top 40 global mining companies, 15% of which are Canadian, amounted to more than $600 billion in 2017. Additionally, 57% of the world’s public mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).

In contrast to the global mining industry’s financial achievements, its activities across many regions are often criticized for negative impacts on human rights, including long-term health impacts, violations of indigenous peoples’ rights, forced displacement, and harm to local communities. Canada’s own mining sector has allegedly contributed to numerous human rights abuses around the world (such as increased violence near mining sites, threats to the rights of children, and environmental harms).

Promisingly, however, the Canadian government is increasingly focused on responsible international corporate activity. In January 2018, Canada’s Ministry of Trade announced a new independent function—the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE)—to investigate human rights abuses connected to corporate activity abroad. (The Ombudsperson has yet to be appointed.) Additionally, the Ministry created a multi-stakeholder Advisory Body -with John Ruggie (who chairs Shift’s Board of Trustees) serving as Honorary Chair- to advise the government and the CORE on responsible international business conduct. Meanwhile, a proposed Modern Slavery Bill, currently up for discussion in the House of Commons, would require enhanced annual reporting by business, and impose fines on companies not engaging in due diligence on modern slavery and child labour.

The majority of the companies we analyzed are failing to communicate a comprehensive narrative around human rights, cherry-picking instead a limited set of issues.

Given the long history of human rights impacts associated with the mining industry and these changes in Canada’s regulatory framework, Shift has analyzed the human rights disclosure of 18 of the top TSX-listed Canadian mining companies.

Our aim is to highlight opportunities, as suggested by the companies’ own reporting, for improving how they address human rights risks and impacts.

Shift’s methodology is two-fold: first, our team maps companies’ human rights reporting against the expectation that companies know and show how they respect for human rights, as set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). We analyze this using the UNGP Reporting Framework, the world’s first comprehensive guidance for company reporting on respect for human rights. Next, we apply Shift’s unique maturity analysis, establishing indicators of mature reporting, and distinguishing laggards from leaders along a tiered maturity scale. While we recognize that reporting is not a mirror of companies’ actual performance in this area, it is an important window into the company’s approach and practices, giving insight into likely strengths, weaknesses, and gaps.

Our team identified notable trends in conducting this research, some of which were comparable to those in previous analyses of other industries available in the UNGP Reporting Database. However, Shift found that the overall maturity of reporting by Canadian mining companies is slightly lower than for other industries already assessed. The majority of the companies we analyzed are failing to communicate a comprehensive narrative around human rights, cherry-picking instead a limited set of human rights issues without justifying their selection, or reporting in general on sustainability and corporate social responsibility issues without acknowledging their specific responsibility to respect human rights.

Similarly, even though some disclosure may highlight policies in place around human rights, or even provide examples that demonstrate the company is addressing some human rights concerns, most disclosure in this group lacks a cohesive narrative, structure, and insight into how companies understand, prioritize, and address risks to human rights connected with their business. Of the 18 companies analyzed, only two solidly attained Mature levels (4 out of 5 on Shift’s tiered maturity scale). Both of these companies illustrated their strong human rights policy commitments, reported on operational-level grievance mechanisms and remedy provided for impacts, and provided robust information about stakeholder engagement practices.

Based on the detailed findings outlined in our report, we produced a set of recommendations, some of which are highlighted below, and most of which can be applied more broadly across industries:

Highlighted Recommendations:

  • Sharing a policy commitment is important, but only a first step: companies should also share how human rights policies are developed and communicated, and build on their policy commitments by identifying their specific salient human rights issues. Additionally, quality disclosure distinguishes between the management of human rights risks and philanthropic or charitable activities—and ensures the two are not conflated.
  • Meaningful reporting is key to gaining stakeholders’ trust in a company’s ability to provide effective remedy. Thus, companies should disclose specific processes employed to address grievances, information about complaint outcomes, and details about independent reviews or oversight of grievance mechanisms.
  • Insightful reporting requires frank and honest sharing of challenges faced by a company, and is bolstered by specific examples that shed light on a company’s approach to addressing them. Honest discussions can provide positive insights and confidence in a company’s ability and efforts to improve their performance, while a defensive narrative can decrease such confidence.

At Shift, we regularly see how reporting processes serve as a powerful driver of improved performance. We hope that these recommendations prove useful to Canadian mining companies, and in turn raise expectations for the sector as a whole, aiding mining companies in Canada and beyond in collectively improving their human rights reporting and performance. Read our full list of recommendations and analysis in, Human Rights Reporting in the Canadian Mining Sector: Maturity Trends and Insights

Gross inequality is the tragedy of the commons we must face up to in 2019

This article first appeared in the Ethical Corporation blog on December  18, 2018


As the year comes to an end, it is only natural to think back to the many business and human rights happenings of 2018: Facebook’s inaction as its platform was used to incite rape and murder in Myanmar; the continuing stories of displaced communities in Thailand and Indonesia, forced labour in nail salons in the UK and child labour in brick production in Uganda and Brazil. The appalling stories of sexual harassment across western workplaces, and gender-based discrimination in China. And the growth in attacks on human rights defenders who speak out against business abuses.

The easy formula would be, of course, to write yet another “top five issues in 2018 and what to expect in 2019” piece. But what do those articles achieve? Year after year, they all come down to the fact that while some issues linger, and some new ones emerge, the fundamental problems for society remain.

So perhaps the end of the year should steer us in a different direction. One that aims not to list out all the individual crises of respect for human rights – past or anticipated – nor the commendable responses from a growing number of companies, but instead to address social inequality as a whole.

I imagine that 15 years ago… (Continue reading…)

Meaningful Engagement with Affected Stakeholders

It was a busy summer here at Shift.

We kicked it off in June with the 13th edition of our Business Learning Workshop. If you have been part of the Shift family for a while, you know how much value we place in the opportunity to engage more deeply with our business partners on a specific theme. The workshop is a unique space where all participants in our Business Learning Program – representing a range of industries – come together to discuss really challenging areas of implementation with the UN Guiding Principles. We make a tremendous effort to ensure that the workshop creates a safe space where companies can openly discuss their challenges, and we can learn together about what works in practice. For this past workshop, we decided to focus on stakeholder engagement – a theme we had previously focused on but realized there was much more to explore.

After two days of insightful discussions, role-plays and example sharing, I came back home thinking about my own list of takeaways from the workshop. I’ve found great value in referring to that list as I have continued to engage with businesses, financial institutions, and other stakeholders in the months that followed. So, here are my nine key takeaways from our discussion about how to consider stakeholder engagement from the perspective of the UNGPs, with practical steps that might help turn these insights into action.

  1. It is absolutely essential that we re-humanize due diligence.

    Companies understand that they need to engage with affected stakeholders as part of their due diligence efforts. Yet many of them struggle with how to put this into practice – particularly given the scale and complexity of global value chains. Stakeholder engagement can easily become something we ‘have to do’ (and show that we have done).

    Therefore, companies tend to rely upon more scalable approaches – engaging with policy level stakeholders close to home, proxy representatives to speak on behalf of affected stakeholders, or research conducted by others. ‘Affected stakeholders’ then becomes something abstract and amorphous – creating a distance between the company and the people who might be impacted by the company’s activities.

    The result: We’ve lost the human element of human rights due diligence. Companies tend to forget that business and human rights is about actual people, whose everyday realities are affected by business activities. And it’s a lot harder to continue to tolerate exploitation of others when you’ve met them in person. So how can they close that gap and ‘re-humanize’ human rights due diligence?

    To do: Don’t look at engagement as something to cross off your list. Instead, look across your due diligence processes: where and how are we as a business hearing directly from people who might be impacted by our activities? What are the one or two further opportunities you could build into your due diligence framework to hear more directly from affected stakeholders?
  2. For just a minute, forget about scale.

    At Shift, we see so many companies worried about scale, and we understand. You have tens or hundreds of thousands of business partners, with exponentially more stakeholders, and you cannot engage with all of them. Yet we have also seen the power that a single direct engagement between a company leader and an affected stakeholder can have in shifting company mindsets and attitudes, and the effect that this can then have in driving efforts to respect human rights in practice.

    To do: As you develop your due diligence approaches or strategies, find opportunities for different leaders within the business – from the CEO on down – to engage directly with an affected stakeholder. No, you cannot do this at scale. But it may be the most significant step you can take.
  3. Now think about more effective ways to get to scale.

    While direct stakeholder engagement is preferable, the reality is that this can’t always happen, and certainly not at the scale and complexity of many companies’ global value chains. So, if companies have to rely upon second-hand engagement (through proxies and other third-parties), how can we ensure that these voices are coming through more effectively?

    To do: Effective grievance mechanisms are one of many ways in which companies can reach scale with global value chains. When they work well, grievance mechanisms can provide a direct window into some of the concerns of affected stakeholders, their worries and their needs. Look at the effectiveness of grievance mechanisms at various points in your value chain. For particularly high-risk areas, how could you support stronger, more effective grievance mechanisms – either in your own operations or within the operations of value chain partners?
  4. Measure quality, not quantity.

    Most companies love quantitative metrics. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the way in which many businesses measure success. But what are they measuring when it comes to stakeholder engagement? What can we really learn from the number of engagements you’ve had, or the number of people engaged?

    To do: Instead of focusing on quantity, develop tools that assess the quality and effectiveness of your stakeholder engagement (and that of your value chain partners). Start measuring the extent to which stakeholder engagement is helping to shape and inform your human rights work.
  5. Don’t outsource, but be ready to recognize where you might need help.

    Stakeholder engagement is a powerful tool for building authentic, long-term relationships between companies and their stakeholders; it cannot simply be outsourced. That being said, there are specific skills and capacity required to engage successfully with different types of individuals, groups and communities. Effective stakeholder engagement may require understanding context, history, and the nuances of culture – in order to be fully sensitive to who your stakeholders are, what they care about, or how decisions get made. Many of these, sound more like the tools of an anthropologist than a business leader (which may explain why we have seen many extractives companies increasingly bringing people with these types of skill-sets in-house).

    To do: Look at the capacity that you have in-house and the capacity that you need to successfully engage with stakeholders. Are there gaps in the skill-sets you have in-house? Who could you partner with to bridge those gaps, while continuing to own the process of engagement as a business?
  6. Problem-solving is one of the boldest ways to transform a relationship.

    Many companies have specific stakeholder relationships that are particularly challenging. There may be a history or a legacy of less constructive engagement, and perceptions may have hardened. How can businesses transform these dynamics? We’ve seen many examples where companies and stakeholders – who may not have previously been able to sit down in the same room together – find ways to work collaboratively on a specific crisis out of necessity. The company has the opportunity for action, rather than words, and in many cases, both sides are able to recognize the underlying intentions of each other and find value in the collaboration. Often, they are then able to leverage that into rebuilding their relationship.

    To do: Look at the major issues that you are currently dealing with. What have you done, or not done, that might be contributing to a particularly challenging relationship with a stakeholder who is critical of you? Then reach out to that critical stakeholder, and invite them to collaborate in a different way, momentarily setting aside any historical baggage, to solve a specific problem together.
  7. Stakeholder engagement is a critical component of remedy.

    Remedy is not just about the company taking action to right a wrong. Often, the reason the impact occurred or escalated in the first place is because stakeholders felt marginalized or voiceless. In many cases, meaningful engagement with stakeholders can be the most important component of remedy, so that stakeholders can feel heard by the company. It is not just about addressing the impact, but changing the nature of the relationship that may have contributed to the impact occurring or escalating in the first place.

    To do: When looking at an issue or a grievance, build in a component of meaningful direct engagement with the person or group on the other side. You might be surprised at the way that engagement can transform the situation.
  8. Build a supportive environment to develop and/or strengthen effective channels of communication.

    This one is particularly relevant to the workplace. Businesses often face challenges in knowing who to engage, who speaks for whom, and what is ‘enough’ engagement. Many of these challenges are addressed if workers have been able to organize freely and create their own credible representational structures. We often refer to freedom of association as an enabling right, because getting that right can help address so many other workplace rights. Likewise, it can enable more effective stakeholder engagement. Trade unions at the site level, and effective global framework agreements at the headquarters level, can not only help businesses meet their responsibility to respect these particular rights, but can also streamline engagement in the workplace.

    To do: When you are looking to engage with workers, see how you can leverage existing representational structures. And where they don’t exist, try focusing on how to enable them, rather than finding alternative ways to engage with the workers.
  9. It’s stakeholder engagement, not stakeholder management.

    When I talk with businesses about particular stakeholder relationships, it often seems like they are trying to manage a potential reputational risk by engaging with certain stakeholders, rather than having a meaningful dialogue that informs their due diligence. It feels both transactional and tactical. This type of approach may be appropriate in some instances – but this is not what we mean by stakeholder engagement – and companies really need to differentiate this kind of approach from the kind of meaningful stakeholder engagement we know is essential.

    To do: Look at your engagement approach, and differentiate those stakeholders you might be looking to manage, from those you are looking to engage.

I hope some, or several of these takeaways may have sparked your thinking in some way. And, ideally, have been some further inspiration to drive meaningful change. As for me, I am already looking forward to our next edition of the Business Learning Workshop in a few weeks in London. You can learn more about our Business Learning program here.

John Ruggie Weighs In on Swiss Debate on Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence

This is the English translation of an opinion piece published in the Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung on March 22, 2018.

The New Normal of Human Rights Due Diligence

By John Ruggie

As the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the issue of Business and Human Rights and the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), I take great interest in the progressive implementation of measures to advance business respect for human rights, including through national policy and law.

With great respect, I was therefore disappointed that the Swiss Government decided not to put forward a counter-proposal to the referendum Initiative on responsible business conduct. The subject is of immense importance for major Swiss companies and for Switzerland’s own national brand.

At the same time, I am pleased that the Groupement des Enterprises Multinationales (GEM), which represents over 90 multinational companies, has taken a constructive position on the Initiative. Its Secretary-General, Arnaud Bürgin, is reported to have said that GEM agrees in principle with a counter-proposal currently discussed in parliament that includes due diligence measures. In turn, the organizers of the Initiative have indicated that they would be willing to accept this business-driven formula.

Human rights due diligence throughout the value chain is the most effective tool for companies to avoid involvement in human rights harm. It protects values and value alike. That is why governments, businesses, and civil society have been strong supporters of it, going back to the unanimous endorsement of the UNGPs by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

Switzerland would not be alone by undertaking progressive change in this space; indeed, it risks falling behind. Anti-slavery legislation has been adopted in a number of jurisdictions, ranging from California to the UK. France has adopted a “due vigilance” law. Canada has just established the office of ombudsperson with authority to compel witnesses and documentation from Canadian companies operating overseas that have been accused of human rights violations. The new German government, as part of its coalition agreement, will require companies to have human rights due diligence measures in place if, by 2020, fewer than half of German companies with more than 500 employees have not adopted them. The European Commission is examining corporate governance rules, requiring boards of directors to adopt and disclose their sustainability strategy, including appropriate due diligence throughout their supply chains. This list is not exhaustive, but it does underscore the new normal of human rights due diligence by firms.

There is still ample opportunity in Switzerland for informed and thoughtful discussion of the issues being raised by the Initiative and GEM. I urge all concerned to engage in constructive dialogue and move toward the convergent position of these major stakeholders.

John Ruggie is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.                                    

When Counseling Clients on Risk, Lawyers Need to Take a Proactive Approach on Human Rights

I spoke recently to the New York City Bar Association at a Continuing Legal Education program on why business and human rights matter for lawyers. Based on a show of hands, most of the lawyers attending the session were law firm litigators. Only a few were corporate or commercial lawyers. This was unfortunate, because business litigators usually address human rights long after the horse has left the barn and is galloping far into the next county.

Business litigators usually address human rights long after the horse has left the barn and is galloping far into the next county. Non-litigators, in contrast, have a much better ability to provide wise advice to clients up front on how to avoid involvement in human rights abuse in the first place.

Non-litigators, in contrast, have a much better ability to provide wise advice to their clients up front on how to avoid involvement in human rights abuse in the first place.

Lawyers outside the courtroom typically see proactive advice on business and human rights as a squishy subject, because it involves navigating between the shifting boundaries of hard and soft law. It requires demystification for those lawyers who advise boards on strategic risks, prepare public disclosure reports, draft contracts, negotiate deals and structure legal frameworks.

I have tried to do make this clearer in two recently published articles.

The first, “Wise counseling on global supply chains,”urges business lawyers to take a more holistic approach towards negotiating supply contracts, and not rely exclusively on boilerplate contract language and the inclusion of audit clauses.

The second, “Should a parent company take a hands-off approach to the human rights risks of its subsidiaries?“, urges lawyers to consider carefully the wide range of risks, both legal and non-legal, to which parent companies will be exposed if they try a hands-off approach towards the human rights performance of their subsidiaries in order to minimize their legal risk profile.

The common theme in both articles is the importance to lawyers and clients of considering, at the outset of any legal engagement, important soft law human rights context to legal advice and services, such as the UN Guiding Principles. The American Bar Association’s model professional rules of conduct (Rule 2.1) notes that consideration of such context can greatly increase the value of a lawyer’s services. This was a key reason why the American Bar Association endorsed the UN Guiding Principles in 2012.

Similarly, the International Bar Association has underscored the importance of considering such context in its 2016 Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers and companion Reference Annex (both of which were authored by the IBA’s Business and Human Rights Working Group, which I chaired).


Developments in Europe

Recent European law society initiatives also underscore the importance to lawyers and their clients of taking into account human rights norms that extends beyond providing technical advice and services, particularly at the outset of the lawyer/client relationship.

Specifically, the European Bars Federation/ Fédération des Barreaux d’Europe (FBE), a Strasbourg-based association of 250 European bar associations with approximately 800,000 lawyers, recently launched a Guidance in Business and Human Rights for European Law Societies to help them address the implications of the UN Guiding Principles.

The FBE Guidance is driven by the EU’s recognition of the Guiding Principles as the authoritative policy framework on business and human rights in aligning the EU’s Strategy on Corporate Social Responsibility and other EU initiatives, including the development of National Action Plans to implement the Guiding Principles.

The FBE Guidance recommends that bar associations take far-reaching and proactive efforts to embed the Guiding Principles into all areas of legal practice, including:

  • A public commitment by law societies to respect human rights and reduce obstacles to access to remedy;
  • Disseminating the Guiding Principles internationally;
  • Educating and training lawyers in business and human rights;
  • Boosting the role that lawyers must play to support the effective respect of human rights and provision of remedy;
  • Advancing criteria and ethical guidance to help lawyers resolve dilemmas;
  • Increasing the capacity of law societies to address business and human rights issues;
  • Taking a proactive role in the development of significant business and human rights initiatives.

To that end, on February 1, 2018, the Geneva Bar Association, an FBE member, amended its Professional Code of Conduct to provide that lawyers should do their best to mitigate the risks of human rights abuses by corporate clients by promoting their inclusion up front in the early stages of their advice or when helping to prepare agreements or contracts. This language is precatory, not merely permissive.

These European initiatives make it clear that the subject of business and human rights is not just for litigators anymore. Legal advice that helps a client avoid trouble is always much cheaper than the legal cost of cleaning a mess after it happens.

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.

Jump to the guidance

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.”


View the guidance: ungpreporting.org/assurance
Questions? Contact us

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.

Respect for Human Rights: Creating a Holistic Framework for Business Contributions to the SDGs

Also see this Viewpoint as a PDF.

What’s the current problem with the way some organizations are talking about business contributions to sustainable development – and what’s a better path forward?


1. The problem: misunderstanding the nature of respect for human rights

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are setting a new and increasingly accepted basis for companies to stake out a position on how they are responsible and sustainable.

Yet with 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 related targets, there is a risk that companies simply repackage what they already do in the wrapping of the SDGs, or focus on certain SDGs based on the ease, rather than the impact, of those choices. This is not to suggest that businesses should address all goals. Rather, we believe they need a principled process, that reflects international standards, to identify the SDGs through which they can maximize their contribution.

Companies and states that view business respect for human rights in a compliance/risk/do no harm box will miss its relevance and power to achieve resoundingly positive outcomes.

Human rights are embedded throughout the SDGs. Yet many organizations that are telling business how to think about this – and many leaders in business itself – are failing to understand the place of respect for human rights in this broader framework. 

Respect for human rights tends to be seen as something necessary but basic, from which leading companies have already moved on to more innovative, leadership-oriented, collaborative initiatives. (This vastly overestimates progress on human rights within the business community.) Moreover, because respect for human rights is an expectation of all companies, it is often seen as merely a matter of compliance and risk management, and distinct from initiatives that are characterized as transformative.

These pervasive assumptions fail to understand:

  • that implementing respect for human rights is an integral part of doing business, not something you do and then move on from;
  • that implementing respect for human rights is not just a matter of compliance to be achieved simply through audit and data tracking, but instead requires capacity building, innovation, collaboration and leadership;
  • that respect for human rights is not just a “do no harm” proposition, but drives positive change in people’s lives, with many positive outcomes for sustainable development;
  • that this positive impact of respecting human rights can drive transformative change at scale, in particular through collaborative uses of leverage across value chains that have the power to improve the lives of millions of workers and community members*;
  • that respect for human rights must also permeate any and all other initiatives a company undertakes to contribute to the SDGs, from philanthropy to shared value initiatives, environmental projects to innovative financing, and workforce engagement to anti-corruption efforts;
  • that respect for human rights by business is the essential key to unlock achievement of many SDGs, and without which they cannot be achieved. 


2. The answer: a true understanding of the power of respect for human rights

In fact, when companies address negative impacts on human rights they can achieve resoundingly positive outcomes. Companies and states that view business respect for human rights in a compliance/risk/do no harm box will therefore miss its relevance and power as part of an SDG strategy.

Instead, companies should see it in a similar way to their environmental contributions to the SDGs, which typically have two parts:

  1. every company can contribute positively to sustainable development by reducing the negative impacts on the environment associated with its business – including across its value chain;
  2. some companies will also be able to develop new and innovative products, services and ways of doing business that can further contribute to improving the environment and combating climate change, and should do so wherever they can.

This logic works equally well for the “people part” of the SDGs:

  1. every company can contribute positively to sustainable development by reducing the negative impacts on people’s human rights associated with its business – including across its value chain;
  2. some companies will also be able to develop new and innovative products, services and ways of doing business that can further contribute to improving people’s lives, including their enjoyment of human rights, and should do so wherever they can.

Implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – the global standard in this field – is the basis for addressing part (a). It must also inform any initiatives a company undertakes for part (b) – in relation to both planet and people – so they too are carried out with respect for human rights. 


3. The way forward: a holistic framework for contributing meaningfully to the SDGs

By adopting the same two-part approach to how they address the “people part” of sustainable development as they do to addressing the “planet part,” companies now have a holistic vision for how they can develop strategies to support the SDGs, which embeds the right understanding of the role and the power of respect for human rights. This view is illustrated in the graphic to the right.

This framework offers a straightforward way for any company to work out how it should and can contribute to the SDGs:

  1. Analysis: The company maps its most severe actual and potential negative impacts on people and on the planet across its operations and value chain – that is, its salient issues in each dimension;
  2. Delivery: The company then maps those priorities to the SDGs and identifies how it can maximize positive outcomes for people and planet by reducing these impacts, including through innovation and collaboration;
  3. Analysis: The company maps the ways in which the nature of its business, skill sets and market position may enable it to innovate additional positive contributions to the SDGs;
  4. Delivery: The company identifies how it can deliver on that potential, alone or in partnership with others, through processes that respect human rights and the environment.

Read more: Our November 2016 position paper to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission on business, human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals

*[1] The International Labour Organization estimates that in just 40 countries representing 85 percent of world gross domestic product there are 453 million formal sector jobs related to global supply chains. Realizing the rights of these workers would constitute a transformative change. This is relevant not only to SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth; the opportunities unlocked for people when they have decent jobs with living wages include a route out of poverty (SDG1) with improved access to food (SDG 2), to health (SDG 3), to education (SDG 4), and to equality of opportunity (SDGs 5 and 10).

Initial Statement by FIFA’s New Independent Human Rights Advisory Board

In March 2017 Shift Managing Director and Co-Founder Rachel Davis joined the newly established FIFA Human Rights Advisory Board. We see our participation in this Board as a significant opportunity to push for FIFA’s implementation of the report For the Game. For the World. FIFA and Human Rights, authored by John G. Ruggie with support from Shift. In Shift’s participation on this Board, we retain complete independence and do not accept any financial or other compensation for our time.


We welcomed our first day and a half of substantive discussions with the FIFA Administration, including the Secretary-General, about FIFA’s human rights responsibilities. It was an important opportunity to establish a general understanding of FIFA’s human rights efforts to date, and it was a forthright and frank discussion.

We reviewed a range of key issues that FIFA is taking action on, following from the 2016 independent report by John Ruggie on FIFA and human rights. We discussed the organization’s draft human rights policy and its ongoing consultations on this document. We also discussed the most pressing human rights issues in relation to the upcoming FIFA World Cups in Russia and Qatar, and the important progress being made in particular through the joint inspections being undertaken with Building and Woodworkers’ International in both countries. We also had detailed discussions about the work being done to implement FIFA’s anti-discrimination commitments, the process to include human rights in the 2026 bidding documents, the work of the new women’s football division, FIFA’s initial thinking on how to implement effective grievance mechanisms, and the work of the Israel-Palestine Monitoring Committee established by FIFA.

There were a number of examples of positive action that FIFA is taking, and we are encouraged by much of what we have heard. We recognize and appreciate the openness of FIFA to having these discussions with us. This will be essential to address the many critical issues that need further attention and effort. We will prioritize our ongoing work based on the most important human rights challenges we believe FIFA is facing.

We plan to take a very engaged approach in our work with FIFA and to develop practical advice and recommendations. We will shortly issue a more detailed set of operating principles about our approach as the Human Rights Advisory Board.

We will liaise closely with the new FIFA Governance Committee that is responsible for providing strategic advice on human rights to FIFA’s Council. We look forward to interaction with all relevant divisions of FIFA about their own roles in implementing FIFA’s human rights commitments. We note that the Advisory Board is not a replacement for broader stakeholder engagement by FIFA, nor a formal channel for resolution of grievances. We welcome active engagement with all stakeholders whose views can help inform our work.

We aim to publish our report on our initial meeting within the next six weeks.