Mar 8 2016

Margaret Jungk resigns from UN Working Group and emphasises need for stronger measurement in business and human rights

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Today, Margaret Jungk resigned from the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

The MB&HR project worked closely with Margaret during the past five years, including in preparation of the latest report of the UN Working Group to the General Assembly (a report which focused specifically on how to improve the way in which we measure implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights). It is therefore not a surprise to us that Margaret included a strong statement about the importance of measuring business and human rights in her resignation letter. You can find the statement here below:

The issue of measurement must be addressed. If we are serious about implementing the Guiding Principles, we need to know where progress is taking place and which issues and actors are lagging behind. Without robust measurement efforts, we will be subject to speculation, misinformation, and anecdotes posing as data. I realize that measuring the state duty to protect and the company responsibility to respect carries political risks and value judgements in the determination of what and how to measure. Yet with dozens of other challenging issues—from corruption to child labour to human trafficking—we have faced these obstacles. The first step toward solving a problem is understanding it. And every day we postpone measurement efforts, we fail to do both.

We take this opportunity to thank Margaret for her continuous support during the past years.

You can find her full resignation letter here.

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Feb 12 2016

Isabella Stanbrook – Why is measurement an important theme for business and human rights in 2016?

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This post was contributed by Isabella Stanbrook, senior analyst at Sancroft.

More than two thirds of the world’s fifty largest companies already have a specific human rights policy. This reflects a growing corporate awareness of human rights impacts.

In the past, corporate responsibility (CR) was primarily environmentally focused with measurement and reporting chiefly a quantitative exercise. When businesses began to grapple with other CR issues, they did it in the way they knew best – quantifying, measuring and reporting with numbers.  There is now a notable increase in accountability surrounding the social aspects of responsible business operations; evolving from a purely quantitative reporting to include qualitative disclosure and transparency.

Looking ahead to the Business and Human Rights trends for 2016, Sancroft International identified ‘measurement’ as an important theme for the year ahead. Sancroft see measurement as classified in the three following ways.

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Feb 1 2016

Agathe Derain – Human rights and business: Could performance measurement be premature?

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This post was contributed by Agathe Derain, manager in the sustainability team of Deloitte France.

The common pitfall of rushing towards KPIs

Since the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in 2011, and their recognition in an increasing number of international or regional standards on sustainability reporting, companies have been expected to know and show that they respect human rights. This new form of accountability leads them to design Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the Holy Grail of business management, to measure, monitor, and communicate the results of their human rights approach.

Defining statistically reliable metrics on such a qualitative, contextual topic, however, proves to be a difficult exercise.

A study conducted by Deloitte in February 2015 showed that 85% of large European corporations use the human rights indicators provided by international frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). However, very few disclose in-house KPIs that indicate the efficiency of their actions – or do so only on a specific issue or area, neglecting reporting requirements on global, aggregated performance.

Besides the inherent complexity of making data analytics work on human rights, companies may also be looking to design KPIs too soon. Business is still only beginning to address the issue, launching pilot programs and refining them through trial and error. If actions are not yet structured enough to be repeatable, let alone managed and made routine, can quantifying human rights performance realistically be the next logical step?  Continue reading

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Dec 24 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – The UN Guiding Principles in the Americas: Moving Forward?

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This post was contributed by Humberto Cantú Rivera, Associate Researcher and Ph.D. candidate at Université Panthéon-Assas Paris II.

Much discussion has taken place about the development of a business and human rights agenda in different settings; most notably, an important focus has been on the development of National Action Plans (NAPs) by European States, as well as on the adoption of a business and human rights perspective within the wider EU corporate social responsibility agenda. Some focus has been on supply chains of different industries in Asia and Africa, particularly on the garment sector in the first case and on conflict-minerals in the second case.

Generally, the work and role of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises in supporting the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) has been on the spotlight.

However, the case of Latin American States and the different human rights challenges they face in the context of business activity has been relatively absent from these discussions. Several developments that have taken –and are taking– place in 2015 tend to suggest that the topic will enter the agenda of the Organization of American States (OAS) agenda in a more permanent and clear manner.

At the institutional level

In January 2015, the Organization of American States held a meeting to discuss the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Business, having as its main objectives to foster dialogue among Member States on implementing the Guiding Principles at the domestic level and to share best practices and experiences in this regard, with the participation of OAS Member States, civil society, academia, international organizations and business.

This meeting, the first to discuss the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles in the Americas, saw several OAS Member States explain their different policies and domestic legal frameworks to support and promote corporate social responsibility practices broadly; however, few examples actually focused on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, with the exceptions of Chile and Colombia.

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Dec 11 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – The importance of local partnerships and robust research: Agricultural workers in the Morocco tomato food chain

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This post was contributed by Ines del Real Tovar and Maddalena Neglia, respectively Senior manager partnerships and learning and Business and human rights specialist at Fairfood International. 

The implementation of human rights standards in the global supply chain and, particularly, in the food supply chain is one of the emerging challenges of present years. The lack of decent working conditions, the existence of unfair trading practices and the absence of a living wage for workers in the food sector are facts that need to be addressed and solved.

Relating to this last point, important steps have already been taken and living wages are no longer a taboo subject among the stakeholders involved (governments, NGOs and industry). However, the international and national regulatory and policy framework is still complex and fragmented. It has become crucial for all the actors involved (government, industry and civil society) to understand the best ways to ensure a sustainable food supply chain, respecting human rights standards, and to work towards implementation. This multi-stakeholder dialogue was encouraged on several occasions during the last 4th Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.

For this reason, here we present the example of our work in the tomato food chain in Morocco, which now we aim to develop into a multi-stakeholder dialogue. The tomato food chain project was instigated by Fairfood International in 2013 and we believe that it can be a model for other similar initiatives.

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Dec 9 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – Business and human rights: No progress without protection for defenders

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This post was contributed by Michael Ineichen, Programme Manager and Human Rights Council Advocacy Director at the International Service for Human Rights.

The level of protection enjoyed by those defending rights has long been recognised as a vital indicator for the overall respect for human rights in a given context and country. Tracking progress on business respect for human rights therefore cannot ignore the evidence of increasing restrictions placed on human rights defenders and civil society in a number of countries around the world.

Both to assess its investment and operating environment, and to gain vital partners in mitigating and remedying potential negative human rights impact, business has a clear interest in contributing to a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders. Unfortunately, in too many contexts, working to secure respect for human rights is dangerous, despite the vital contribution of this work to the rule of law, democracy and, indeed, to good business.

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Dec 4 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – Measuring progress on human rights, and peace, in conflict affected areas

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This post was contributed by Andrea Iff, Head of Business and Peace, swisspeace. 

Conflict-affected and high-risk areas are characterized by specific political, economic and social conditions. An area can be conflict-affected either because of a violent conflict that exists between language, religious or identity groups independently from a business operation or because of a violent conflict between a company and a community surrounding a business operation.

Progress in human rights and business is particularly relevant for these areas. In its 2014 report, the UNWG called upon states to “identify steps to support business enterprises while integrating guidance on conflict-sensitive business practices into their human rights due diligence processes”.

And integration of conflict-sensitivity and human rights approaches to business conduct is fruitful on different levels outlined below. Apart from ‘doing no harm’/conflict-sensitivity in conflict affected areas, companies are more and more interested in the opportunity to jointly with other organizations support peacebuilding in conflict-affected areas. While this is a new and ‘cutting edge’ topic, it goes hand in hand with a conflict-sensitivity lens.

There are three different areas where an integration of conflict-sensitivity methodology into a human rights approach can be fruitful.

It is in the assessment phase of human rights impacts analyses that conflict-sensitivity is very well positioned to complement human rights approaches, as it can help companies understand the different kinds of conflict-related risks. We distinguish three different kinds of impacts:

  • impacts relevant from both, a human rights and conflict sensitivity perspective (i.e. environmental damages such as water pollution or business relations to rebel groups);
  • impacts that are not likely to stir broader societal conflict (i.e. unequal payment of women and men);
  • impacts that are not in the first place associated with human rights (i.e. who does economically benefit from a company’s presence or does the company support one groups preference for economic policy more than another’s) but that can drag companies into a conflict spiral.

The third kind of issues tend to be overlooked by standard human rights impact assessments but are highly relevant to the overall human rights risks of the company in conflict affected areas.

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Dec 3 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – Follow the Money: Using development finance to hold corporations accountable

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This post was contributed by Gretchen Gordon, Coordinator for the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, and Stephanie Mellini, Research and Advocacy Fellow with the Coalition.

Two weeks ago, at the United Nations’ fourth Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, multi-stakeholder groups discussed ongoing challenges and trends in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). While the discussion around business and human rights has tended to focus primarily on States and the private sector, it is beginning to explore a critical area where these two entities increasingly converge – development finance.

Why development finance matters for business and human rights

A new factsheet from the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable explores the myriad reasons why development finance matters for business and human rights. Here, we’ll explore just a few.

First, if you follow the money behind a corporate activity, in many cases you’ll find it leads to some form of development finance – official development assistance, national and multilateral development banks, or other Development Finance Institutions (DFIs).

Development finance to the private sector takes many shapes. Development banks provide direct loans and credit lines to corporations, and can even be equity investors in private businesses. Development banks are also increasingly lending through financial intermediaries like commercial banks and private equity funds, which then “lend-on” funds to their clients. More and more, States are relying on the private sector to meet their development objectives, including through public-private-partnerships for the provision of public services or infrastructure development.

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Dec 2 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – The Measure of … Things: Measurement First Principles and the Business and Human Rights Assessment Project

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This post was contribute by Larry Catá Backer, W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar Professor of Law and International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University.

The 2015 United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights will focus on “Tracking Progress and Ensuring Coherence.” The business and human rights stakeholders are increasingly focused on taking the measure of that project. An influential stakeholder, Measuring Business & Human Rights, launched a blog series on how to assess and track implementation of the UNGP.

How can we measure progress in the implementation of the UNGPs? What are the most daunting challenges and/or the most promising solutions?

Do you see progress in the implementation of the UNGPs? If so (or if not), what is the evidence in support of your argument?

This is an essential task; one that cannot wait for the languid processes of national action plans and corporate policy statement implementation. And yet, perhaps, patience is required. For in the rush to measure, those who measure might overlook or misapply those critical first principles on which sound and effective measurement is founded.

In the absence of consensus on a well theorized set of first principles of measurement the measurement project will produce much data, and even more interpretation, but these will serve no legitimate ends. Thus, when one considers the measurement landscape today, one sees much “progress” in the form of measurement toolkit, measurement metrics and techniques.

But it is not clear that there is consensus on those critical first principles – why measure (its ends), what is measured (the objects of measurement), and how that measure is taken (the techniques of measurement). Without consensus on these first principles there can be little hope of consensus about the most important object of this well structured data harvesting – to interpret the data in light of clear objectives against which data provides a sound measure.

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Dec 1 2015

UN FORUM SERIES – Competition, Collaboration, and Corporate Accountability Rankings

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This post was contributed by David Sullivan, an independent consultant specializing in technology and human rights.

Tech companies are in a tough sport when it comes to censorship and surveillance. Governments continue to demand new levels of access and control over their data, ostensibly to fight terrorism, even as public opinion polls show growing global support for Internet freedom.

In some cases, such as Tim Cook’s strong stance on encryption or the launch of Microsoft’s cloud services from German datacenters, it appears companies are competing with each other to offer more privacy. But the industry is also collaborating, for example, collectively lobbying the U.S. government to pass the USA FREEDOM Act through the Reform Government Surveillance coalition.

How can users, consumers, and investors get a grip on which companies are doing the right thing?

The release of the 2015 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index on freedom of expression and privacy put these questions at the forefront of the business and human rights agenda. Headlines emphasized the low absolute scores of the surveyed companies, or as Ranking Digital Rights Director Rebecca MacKinnon put it, “If this was a test, nearly everyone failed.”

But the rankings do offer some grounds for cautious optimism. In particular, they suggest that competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive when it comes to respecting rights.

Many companies have a strong aversion to being ranked on human rights or other non-financial issues. I know this firsthand from my work with the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, where we developed the first ranking of progress by electronics companies to address sourcing of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many companies were fiercely opposed to being ranked. One senior supply chain executive at a major U.S. tech company told us our methodology was “too focused on areas that do not result in real action and it could prevent the teamwork needed across our industry to drive real change.”

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