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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Tools for Incorporating Human Rights into CSR Reporting

Human-RightsMany 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.

GRI Tools

The Global Reporting Initiative also offers guidelines for organizations that want to report on and manage their human rights records. Details are available here.
Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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