How can you tell whether a company’s human rights program or intervention is successful?

That is a question that we often get asked. And certainly not an easy one to answer. It usually comes from human rights champions within companies, working hard to make a difference, but often lacking indicators to know whether their programs on paper are leading to meaningful action in real life; senior leaders, who struggle to know which human rights initiatives they should allocate resources to; investors, who seek to set the ‘good companies’, doing meaningful work, apart from those with initiatives that are poorly designed or implemented; civil society organizations, seeking to evaluate whether a company is taking meaningful steps to address a human rights issue.

The truth is, there is no single way to evaluate human rights programs; nor is there a magical number that can tell us whether an initiative is improving life for people or not. But certainly, the indicators and data that stakeholders usually do have at hand, are not the right ones:

  • The number of people they have trained on a particular topic
  • The number of or suppliers that have been audited
  • The ratio of grievances processed to grievances received
  • A checklist of the policies and processes that they have put in place

All of these metrics focus on inputs, activities and outputs. But they don’t really tell us what the actual outcomes are for the business, and most importantly, for people.

So, how do we get to outcomes?

Human rights interventions vary widely, depending on the impact they are seeking to prevent or address, the context in which the impact may occur, and the level of complexity of the business’ operations and value chain.

However, there is something that all initiatives have in common: they are built to address an issue that has been identified or is believed to exist, by allocating certain resources to actions or processes.

This simple link between cause and effect has been the subject matter of study of the theory of change model (ToC) in the field of development for many years. ToC aims to find whether the assumptions that we are making when we put in place an action are the correct ones, and whether we have enough data to make an informed decision. Learn more about ToC here.

Theory of Change…with a twist!

Following early consultations, we took the classic ‘theory of change’ model and adapted it to fit the particularities of evaluating business respect for human rights.

  • We distinguished outcomes for people from outcomes for the business. 
  • We separated the outputs that shape intended behaviors and practices from indicators of companies’ actual behaviors and practices.
  • We then developed a beta tool that can be applied by companies and their partners to evaluate an intervention that addresses risks to human rights.
  • We are in the process of piloting the tool with a number of companies to learn from the process and further improve and simplify it. This process of piloting will continue in the months to come.

To learn more about where we are at in our research, browse the documents below:

Latest Resources

Research and Outputs on Tool for Indicator Design
2 Resources
August 2019 | Concept Note

Evaluating Business Respect for Human Rights: A Theory of Change Methodology to Develop Meaningful Indicators

In this piece, we discuss our Theory of Change methodology, and why it’s such a valuable tool for evaluating business respect for human rights.

September 2018 | Discussion Paper

Discussion Paper #1 Evaluating Business Respect for Human Rights: Towards a Shared Way of Thinking

In Shift’s first discussion paper for Valuing Respect, we propose two complementary ways to think about the breadth of information – and associated indicators – that might be useful in evaluating a company’s human rights performance and therefore supporting improvements in reporting and business respect for human rights.

About the Valuing Respect Project