On any given day, millions of employees around the world can impact human rights, for better or worse.
Executives making decisions about strategic direction and budget allocation. Procurement managers choosing to buy from this supplier, or that one. Programmers training the latest AI tool. Security staff responding to threats. Lawyers advising on a deal. Human resources specialists. Marketing executives. Community liaison officers. Factory supervisors.
Any of these employees could inadvertently involve their company in an adverse human rights impact if they're not aware of the company's commitments and policies. If they don't understand what these mean for their role. Or if they simply don't take it seriously.
But with training and commitment, they can help spot and respond to issues early, and find better ways to operate. So it's critical to figure out who needs to know what. And then build know-how and commitment to drive changes in practice and culture.
Ways to raise awareness and provide training across the company:
Ways to build deeper capacity amongst key managers and teams:
Ways to enhance access to tools and guidance:
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, or UNGPs, recognise the importance of strengthening awareness and know-how.
Key guidance on awareness raising, training and capacity building includes:
See Guiding Principles 12 and 16 - 20 for more.
Across an organisation, everyone will need some familiarity with the company’s human rights responsibilities, commitments and policies – and to know where to go for more. This can be met through a “one size fits all” basic training or awareness-raising programme.
Beyond this, who needs to know what will vary significantly, depending on role, function and location. Training and capacity-building programmes targeted at particular groups of employees can be helpful here. These can ensure that specific employees have the human rights-related skills they need to do their job well. Training should be delivered in the group’s own operational or day-to-day language – using terms and concepts that are already familiar.
Some human rights training and capacity building may need to be delivered through standalone processes. However, integrating human rights training into existing processes can also be very valuable. For example, human rights modules can be incorporated into annual business ethics courses, new starter training, graduate “academies” and even high performer or senior leadership courses.
The key to ensuring this is effective is to tailor the content and objectives of the module to the process. For example, mandatory e-learning modules are unlikely to deliver the same outcomes as a small group, in-person, scenario-based workshop. But they can be great for growing general awareness of the company’s policies, and the types of challenges it can face.
Human rights terms and concepts will not always be intuitive to colleagues and business partners. Some practitioners find it helpful to translate human rights terms into more practical and operational language - for example, by talking about passport retention, discrimination, safety or privacy. Others find it helpful to introduce the language of human rights to colleagues, drawing on the universality of these terms to promote consistency across the business. The best choice is likely to be the one that works best for your company and the individuals or teams targeted by particular training and awareness raising activities.
The use of case studies and scenarios can help bring the company’s human rights responsibilities to life. They can also be used to show, in very real terms, what types of impacts the company could have, and to explore how these could have been avoided or better managed. Where a company has been involved in a human-rights-related crisis, using this as a case study can help make real that these things don’t just happen to other companies or in other parts of the world. They help bring the risk home.
Case studies and scenarios should be updated over time, to keep them relevant to the company’s business and operating context, and to build in new experiences and opportunities to learn.
Cross-functional role plays can be used to strengthen empathy between colleagues, and enhance communication and collaboration across teams. Targeting leaders within the system – both formal and in-practice – can help shift attitudes across whole groups. And presenting human rights as a new challenge to overcome – for example, when working with engineers – can also create excitement, and engage people’s problem-solving capabilities.
Giving key teams ownership of their own training can also be effective. Having the team itself drive the process ensures it is – and feels – relevant. This may include, for example, the team conducting a gap analysis of its policies and processes, undertaking a consultation process with internal experts and developing its own guidance resource on what respect for human rights means for the team's own work. The process of undertaking these activities can be as valuable in supporting learning as the outputs that are generated.
Building “networks of champions”, allies and change agents can help drive awareness across the company and create local “go to” points for human rights-related expertise.
These multipliers don’t need to be human rights experts to be effective. A confident grasp of key concepts, policies and processes – and access to further information and support – can be sufficient. These individuals can build awareness and know-how amongst colleagues in their function or region, as well as provide a local source of advice and support. Networks of champions can also work together to strengthen their own expertise through discussion threads and regular group calls.
Efforts to raise awareness, train and build capacity are key to implementing effective policies and processes to manage human rights risks.
Importantly, these efforts are also critial to achieving the deeper transformation in corporate cultures needed to embed respect for human rights in how business is conducted.
Places to start include:
Improving tracking, monitoring and evaluation: A key challenge for business practitioners is knowing how effective training initiatives are. Are employees following their training? Have they really understood and internalised key concepts and guidance? Do they feel empowered to use their knowledge in practice? Do they get the importance of doing so? Advancing practice in this area seems key to building on what works, and improving what doesn't.
Overcoming the challenges of scale: Another challenge to be overcome - particularly for large and multinational enterprises - is finding practicable ways to reach vast numbers of employees. And to do so where those employees are based in many different countries, with different languages and cultures. Some companies are working to train "networks of champions" who can cascade know-how within their region or part of the business. Others use online platforms to connect different parts of the business and disseminate information and insights. These initiatives are valuable, and there are real opportunities (and need) to build on them.