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Business Wakes Up To Need To Focus On Human Rights

Posted on April 1, 2015 at 5:45 PM

It was bound to happen, as the trend continues for senior executives and boardrooms to acknowledge that they live in an interconnected global world, and not one that has wood panelling.The issue of human rights is making its way into boardrooms.

Some 83% of executives today believe that human rights is not only a central theme at government level but also a major topic of focus for business, according to a recently published report by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Its findings are based on a global online survey of 850 respondents of whom nearly half were C-level executives or board members. It also conducted in-depth interviews with independent human rights experts and senior plc executives.

"Corporate attitudes are evolving quickly, with 44% of respondents stating that human rights are an issue on which CEOs take the lead, and companies are integrating human rights considerations into their policy making" says the report. However, there's a jump to be made from changing attitude to action: only 22% said they have a publicly available human rights policy.

In an increasingly fast-moving world, boardrooms need to start to sharpen up their response time.

The responses indicate that companies do not see a business case focused on immediate costs and benefits for human rights, but rather see respecting human rights as a leading driver in building good relationships with local communities (48%); protecting the company's brand and reputation (43%) and serving moral or ethical considerations (41%), says the report.

GROAN. When are businesses going to realise that you just need to change the language to fit around a necessary shift in thinking - for 'local communities' think 'supply chain' and 'stakeholders'. If that doesn't work, think Rana Plaza, Dhaka - that should do it.

Britain has been first in making the jump, at the government level. It didn't get much media attention, except from me for Forbes - Ranking Business For Human Rights In 'A Race To The Top' 

My pieces for Forbes are accessible from my website if the link above does not work - or just Google Dina Medland Forbes. You should also read this, in the context of human rights- Watch Out: For Supply Chain Risk.

There is clearly a lack of understanding as to a company's responsibilities, and the report identifies the possibility of requiring mandatory reporting on human rights.

I wonder if a new focus on human rights would get the whole issue of 'women' and their under-representation further than we have managed to date, when it comes to women in boardrooms. "Gender equality is at the very heart of human rights and United Nations values" says the United Nations website for the Office of the High Commisioner for Human Rights.

The road from principle to practice: Today's challenges for business in respecting human rights: published by The Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by WeiserMazarsLLP and Mazars Group can be accessed here.

Categories: Behaviour, Governance, Engagement