Strengthening awareness, know-how and commitment

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.


What does training and capacity building look like in practice?

Ways to raise awareness and provide training across the company:

  • Incorporate a human rights module in mandatory training and refresher courses, for example on business ethics or codes of conduct.
  • Provide in-depth training to all new employees, communicating clearly the company's commitment and incorporating relevant case studies. 
  • Organise a “Human Rights Day” (or month) to spark discussions, accompanied by newsletters, videos and posters.  

Ways to build deeper capacity amongst key managers and teams:

  • Provide mandatory training that focuses on specific skills and knowledge, and uses real-life case studies to demonstrate relevance.
  • Use interactive formats to deepen learning opportunities, such as cross-functional role plays to strengthen team work and know-how.
  • Make the most of due diligence activities (e.g. regional workshops to identify salient issues) to boost understanding across the business.

Ways to enhance access to tools and guidance:

  • Develop guides that offer plain language information and examples, such as Total's Human Rights Guide and Vale's Human Rights Guide.
  • Host an online portal with videos, news, guidance and tools, such as this page of The Coca-Cola Company's website.
  • Release a mobile device app with tools and resources, such as the app developed by The Coca-Cola Company (IOS and Android).


What do the UN Guiding Principles say about training?

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:

  • A company’s responsibility to respect extends across all internationally recognised human rights. Companies need to build the capacity to identify, address and communicate about issues related to any internationally recognised human right. 
  • Employees need to be aware of the company’s policy commitment and receive relevant training and operational guidance. A company’s human rights policy statement – and related policies, processes and lines of accountability – need to be communicated clearly. 
  • Companies should build the capacity of employees to identify and address human rights risks. To carry out effective human rights due diligence, employees in relevant functions will need specific knowledge and capacity. You may need to “translate” human rights-related concepts into operational language, and ensure employees know where to find more information. 

See Guiding Principles 12 and 16 - 20 for more.

Insights from business practice

  • Work out who needs to know what - and revisit this over time

    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.  

  • Leverage existing training and capacity building processes

    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.

  • Use language that will resonate with and be understood by your audience

    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.

  • Case studies can help make human rights real and relevant to colleagues

    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.

  • Be practical and creative to strengthen commitment, ownership and team work

    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.

  • Multipliers can help scale efforts to raise awareness and know-how

    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.

Looking forward: transforming corporate cultures

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.