Assessing respect, empathy and agency in company-stakeholder relationships

Good relationships underpin business respect for human rights. Doing business with respect for people’s dignity and equality starts, in many ways, by building good quality relationships with affected workers, communities and consumers. Yet, when it comes to evaluating company efforts to respect human rights  – ‘tracking’ in the language of the UN GUIDING PRINCIPLES – there has been little focus on gathering data about how affected stakeholders experience their relationship with the companies that affect their lives. Bringing stakeholder voice into the assessment of company-stakeholder relationships is important for three, interrelated reasons:

  • First, stakeholder engagement is paramount to each step of the due diligence process, under the UN Guiding Principles. Yet these efforts are too often assessed using metrics about the existence of formal processes, or the frequency and reach of activities through which a company interacts with stakeholders. Robust processes are important. But stopping at process metrics misses the critical signal of how affected stakeholders view the relationships that are created through these processes.
  • Second, the on-going relationships that a company, its suppliers or other business partners have with potentially affected stakeholders are a product, in good part, of the way those business actors behave in their interactions. Measures about the quality of relationships are a real-time indicator of whether a culture of respect for people is in place in the office, factory, field or operational site. They can tell us about the likelihood of risks to and impacts on people being identified and addressed in appropriate ways.
  • Third, whether affected stakeholders feel respected, treated fairly and can freely exercise agency in their relationship with companies helps us understand the outcomes companies are delivering in people’s lives. Qualitative data about the quality of relationships is therefore an important complement to other the more widespread quantitative metrics about diversity, wage levels or numbers of grievances resolved.

“From the outset of the Valuing Respect project we’ve explored how to put people’s experience at the core of evaluation; to recognize that if we start with the people directly affected, then that will ultimately lead to better data and insight. As we uncovered more innovations that placed affected stakeholder voice at the centre of evaluating company programs and activities, we spotted a pattern. These efforts were uncovering previously hidden realities about the quality of relationships between companies and affected workers. And, what is great, is that companies have been able to act on these findings in very clear ways.”

Jana Mudronova, Shift Advisor
What we are doing in this area of work

We have been engaging with companies and organizations they partner with who have been piloting ways to  measure the quality of their relationships with affected stakeholders. As a result, we’ll soon be publishing a number of case studies ; and, a series of “method notes” about their work. .Our aim is to use practical examples and methodologies to inspire companies and their partners to adopt or draw on our findings to kick off a cycle of creative new thinking and practice in this area. Our work will:

  • Profile the evaluation of company-stakeholder relationships in diverse industry sectors and geographies.
  • Demonstrate a range of methodologies available to companies to design indicators or otherwise assess relationships. 
  • Signpost to a growing number of organizations leading the way in this area of practice.

Latest Resources

Research and Outputs on Quality of Relationships
9 Resources
March 2021

Using Relationship Data to Improve Business Practices: Measuring Company-Community Relationships at a South African Mine

This is a case study about how Gold Fields, a global mining company, has assessed its relationship with communities around the South Deep Gold Mine in the West Rand, South Africa. Three assessments, in which the company gathered extensive community perceptions via surveys and focus groups, were conducted between 2014 and 2019. This case study: […]

February 2021

Evaluating Child Labor Programs: Uncovering How Local Norms Impact Field-Level Relationships Between Farmers, Workers and Children

Using participatory evaluation to address the root causes of an issue This case study is part of a collection developed under the Quality of Relationships stream of Shift’s Valuing Respect Project. It explores how Philip Morris International (PMI), a global tobacco company, used participatory evaluation tools to gather information in order to address the “root […]

December 2020

Assessing whether Behavior Change Training can Improve Relationships Between Supervisors and Workers

This is a case study of how Best Buy assessed the effectiveness of a factory training program designed to address certain behaviors of supervisors that were impeding good quality relationships with workers. Specifically, the program sought to improve how supervisors, among other things, managed conflict with workers, listened to workers, and dealt with workplace stress. […]

July 2019 | Concept Note

Stakeholder Voice: Learning from Affected Stakeholders to Better Evaluate Program Effectiveness and Outcomes

An increasing number of companies, investors and civil society organisations have expressed the need to better evaluate the effectiveness of company efforts to mitigate adverse human rights impacts in terms of outcomes for affected stakeholders. This paper focuses on ways to involve “stakeholder voice” in that evaluation, by which we mean the experiences, perspectives and […]

December 2018 | Thought Leadership

Engaging Affected Stakeholders: Evaluating the Quality of Processes for Company-Community Engagement

In this paper, Shift Advisor Lloyd Lipsett describes the best questions to ask and the best practices to use when evaluating your company’s engagement with affected stakeholders.

March 2016

Key Messages

Between 2018 and 2020, as part of Shift’s Valuing Respect project, we identified numerous approaches that companies can take to measure the quality of relationships in their supply chains and operating contexts. We spoke with diverse business leaders, independent evaluation practitioners, worker voice innovators, non-governmental and advocacy organizations to build up a state of play […]

March 2016

The Resources

The Quality of Relationships collection consists of eight resources: a series of three case studies and five methodologies, featuring a variety of contexts, industries and tools to help companies assess the quality of relationships and embed stakeholder voice across their due diligence efforts.

March 2016

About QR

Good stakeholder relationships underpin business respect for human rights Doing business with respect for people’s dignity and equality starts, in many ways, by building good quality relationships with potentially affected workers, communities and consumers. Yet when it comes to evaluating company efforts to respect human rights – ‘tracking’ their performance, in the language of the […]

March 2016

Assessing the Quality of Relationships

About the Valuing Respect Project