Archive for June 2011
Echo's latest research conceals a small timebomb. It is about how aware companies are of the human rights issue as a business risk. The good news that emerges is: they're well aware. Over 95% believe business needs to respect the human rights of those whose lives it touches.
But the not-so-good news is that a disconcertingly large share (33%) say their organisation has no formal policy on human rights.
Adoption of a formal policy, like it or not, is a first step towards the happy state where people trust you because you "say what you do and do what you say". It's all about the - not always exciting but always important - process of getting people to agree on what you all need to sign up to, then writing it down so it becomes a guiding principle.
The research shows that, with openness seen as a key insurance against damage from difficult issues, there is not much of a stampede for transparency on human rights. Two-thirds of those asked intend to publicly report their human rights impact but do not do so at the moment.
The risks are rife and growing, though, and time is not on companies' side. Respondents to Echo's research, when asked what human rights hazards had hit the headlines recently, far from mentioning a "spike" of 3-4 notorious cases, gave a wide raft of examples: human rights infringements by oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico and the Niger Delta, displacement of indigenous peoples by mining conglomerates, support by telecoms companies for repressive Middle Eastern regimes, breaches of the right to privacy by media companies, the silencing of whistleblowers by agribusiness, sex discrimination by fashion houses, discrimination around disability (whether self-inflicted or not) by airlines, religious bias on dress codes, complicity by web companies in gagging free expression, doubtful medical ethics by pharmaceutical companies … the list was long.
The research also highlights the plight of poor middle management - squeezed from the top and pressured from the bottom - often without the right measures or training or both to deal with these challenging issues. There's clearly a role for business schools and more enlightened management development programmes ahead.
Crucial steps to build a robust protective framework are to discover what and where the risks are, and where things might go wrong. For this task, an experienced reputational auditor is required, one who can investigate the challenges through questioning and observation, both in situ and remotely. Such an independent third party garners insights, opinions and intelligence to a greater depth and more reliably than a "First Party" can.
To help companies cope with the whole business of human rights exposure, the UN has created a framework, "Protect, Respect, Remedy". Echo endorses it through our long-term commitment to the UN Global Compact for Business, and through our yearly reporting of what we do about it. It gives us a good inside track on what keeps sustainability executives awake in the wee small hours.
This research is a clarion call for any corporates out there still vague about the explosive potential of the human rights issue. We'd advise them: investigate the risks now through independent research. Then get policies in place which you can observe and live by.
Click here to view the research results for the IHRB.