Many adopters of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) see human rights as one area within the CSR construct – just like waste, water, and employee engagement.
Of course, Human Rights as a political issue has a much longer and more formal history than Corporate Social Responsibility. Human Rights has a universally sanctioned global framework – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948 after the Nazi genocide drove the international community to articulate a set of inalienable rights and freedoms.
The Declaration includes freedom from the worst forms of abuse such as torture and slavery, as well as civil and political rights (the right to vote and to free expression) and economic and social rights (the right to an adequate standard of living and to education).
So, it’s no surprise that many CSR frameworks include indices on human rights. Nevertheless, putting them into practice can be a challenge – the issues under the “human rights” umbrella can be overwhelming for the average sustainability reporter. Here are a few ways to incorporate human rights into your CSR program.
UN Global Compact
One easy way to get your company thinking about human rights is to sign on to the UN Global Compact (UNGC). The UN Global Compact invites companies to sign-on to abide by ten universally adopted principals in the areas of labor, the environment, anticorruption and human rights.
The human rights principals are the first two in the compact, and they are startling in their simplicity:
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
1861 companies signed on to compact in 2011 – up over 50 percent from the year before.
A company that has signed on:
- Sets in motion changes to business operations so that the Global Compact and its principles become part of strategy, culture and day-to-day operations;
- Is expected to publicly advocate the Global Compact and its principles via communications vehicles such as press releases, speeches, etc; and
- Is required to communicate with their stakeholders on an annual basis about progress in:
Implementing the ten principles and
- Undertaking partnership projects in support of broad UN goals.
This broad set of commitments is simple to adopt, however implementation can be complicated, depending on how rigorously your organization approaches the commitment.
UNGC Implementation Tools
Just like Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) many companies undertake a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA). HRIAs serve to assess how human rights as prescribed by the Universal Declaration are being respected or violated. Then they analyze how the company, its activity, new product or facility might change the situation. Finally, an HRIA can tell the company how to minimize the risk of human rights abuses.
Human rights violations are an area for caution for many companies all over the world. Those companies that use supply chains out of Africa or Asia are especially wary. They should almost certainly include a section in their CSR reports about their labor policies including their efforts to curb child labor and ensure a safer working environment for their female employees.
That’s all well and good for large organizations, but what can small groups do to manage human rights issues?
EU Guidelines for SMEs
Recently, the European Commission adopted a set of guidelines for small-to-medium sized enterprises. The guide is intended to assist small organizations in implementing the UNGC.
The Global Reporting Initiative also offers guidelines for organizations that want to report on and manage their human rights records. Details are available here.