Raising the bar for company behavior by influencing the rules that govern how business gets done

At Shift, we recognize that to achieve business respect for human rights at scale, we need to embed the UN Guiding Principles into the rules that shape markets. Those rules or “standards” can be compulsory – such as laws or regulation that businesses have to abide by to operate in a specific context, or professional standards governing those who provide accounting, assurance and other services to business. They can also be non-legal standards that are voluntarily adopted, yet still help determine the behavior of business – such as standards set by industry associations, voluntary reporting frameworks or codes and principles established through multistakeholder initiatives.

In all their forms, standards play a critical role in advancing respect for human rights: they have the power to reward and incentivize respect for people and to discourage, restrict or even sanction behavior that harms people or puts them at risk.

Shift advises government ministries, regulatory agencies, intergovernmental organizations, reporting standard bodies, business organizations and multistakeholder initiatives on how best to integrate the UN Guiding Principles into the standards they set that drive business behavior.


States have a primary role to play in standard-setting, in line with their Duty to Protect under the UN Guiding Principles. They are expected to put in place a Smart Mix of measures, both mandatory and voluntary, to foster respect for human rights. Early efforts on National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights were often simply a catalog of existing measures. We now see a more proactive approach by some states to give meaning to the smart mix by exploring the need for new mandatory measures, and mandatory human rights due diligence in particular.

At Shift, we have made it a priority to help advance the essential role of mandatory measures in implementing the UN Guiding Principles. We are working with states, businesses, investors and civil society to support a constructive and informed discussion that can lead to effective measures and ultimately, to better outcomes for people

“The UN Guiding Principles always envisaged that states would adopt a smart mix of measures – voluntary and mandatory – to ensure that businesses respect human rights. There is a growing consensus that we need to get better at talking about what mandatory measures can and should look like. At Shift, we have made it a priority to support this conversation.”

rachel davis, vice president and co-founder of shift

Our Approach


Our work with a wide variety of partners – with businesses, governments, civil society organizations, investors and others – means that we understand the perspectives of different actors and approach our work on standards through an informed and critical lens. Our partners seek us out for our expertise in the UN Guiding Principles, our ability to translate those expectations into diverse standard-setting contexts and our skills in facilitating conversations and collaboration between different stakeholders on tough topics.


We have worked with a range of government ministries and state agencies providing training and capacity-building for embassy and trade promotion staff, advising business and human rights policy teams and collaborating with National Human Rights Institutions to develop government-supported guidance and public engagement on the Guiding Principles. This includes work with government partners in Canada, Germany, Ghana, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Malaysia, Norway, Peru, Sweden and the UK.


Our Experience

Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence

Shift is actively working with government agencies, businesses and civil society organizations to advance a constructive discussion on mandatory human rights due diligence.

  • Read this discussion draft on the ‘signals of seriousness’ that national regulators should consider to assess the quality of a company’s HRDD
  • Read this primer about the role of accountability in ensuring robust HRDD
  • Read this introductory piece to learn how we are supporting a meaningful discussion.
  • Learn about our partnership with the Government of Finland in their EU Presidency to build a Europe-wide Agenda for Action
  • Watch Professor John Ruggie’s remarks on mandatory measures during the conference.
  • Watch this panel on the role of regulation in a smart mix of measures to foster responsible business conduct.
Reporting Standards

Over the last seven years, we’ve pioneered the development of a more meaningful approach to human rights disclosure. We have collaborated with a wide range of businesses to put it into practice. Now we’re working to embed these lessons in critical standard-setting processes at the European and global levels. Our work includes:

Please visit our dedicated page on Human Rights Reporting to learn more.

Standards for the Financial Sector

We take the knowledge we gain from working directly with individual organizations and apply it to inform the evolution of key standards influencing financial institution behavior. For example:

  • We have provided expert advice to the Equator Principles Association on how to better embed human rights in the framework used by over 90 financial institutions in 35+ countries to assess and manage environmental and social risks in project finance.
  • This drew on our earlier collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to help clarify the relationship between the UN Guiding Principles and implementation of the IFC’s Environmental and Social Performance Standards.
  • Key insights from that work are captured in our public report on Human Rights Due Diligence in High-Risk Circumstances, which has influenced a number of individual institutions’ practices, including through the 2016 revision of the OECD Common Approaches for Export Credit Agencies.
  • We played a central role supporting the development of the Dutch Banking Agreement (DBA) – a unique, negotiated contract between banks, civil society and government on what Dutch banks’ human rights responsibilities mean in practice.
Industry Standards and Multistakeholder Initiatives

We work with business associations and multistakeholder initiatives (MSIs) to raise the bar across industries. Here are a few of our engagements:

  • We have worked with leading industry associations to improve their guidance for members. For example, in 2019 we worked with ICMM to develop improved guidance on operational-level grievance mechanisms. Learn more.
  • We have also worked with other business initiatives on specific topics, like our collaboration with the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate to develop guidance on respecting the rights to water and sanitation. Learn more.
  • We have been asked by several MSIs to advise them on alignment with the UNGPs in general (like our advice to the Fair Labor Association) or on more specific issues (like our advice to the Global Network Initiative on engagement and grievance handling in the ICT sector).
  • We have worked with standard-setting bodies including the ILO, OHCHR and OECD to develop guidance on specific industries or issuse – like our project with the ILO and IOE to develop guidance on child labor.