The transformative nature of respect

The Global Business Initiative on Human Rights was established in 2009 with a vision of all companies, in all parts of the world, respecting the dignity and rights of people they impact and interact with. Since then, the GBI team has found itself with a unique vantage point from which to observe and gain insight into the efforts of business practitioners and other key stakeholders to advance corporate respect for human rights, and to reflect on progress.

In 2016, GBI’s co-founder and former Executive Director, Mark Hodge, wrote an article on the transformative nature of respect. He reflected on the risk that implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) is seen as focused on a series of technocratic fixes, rather than an opportunity to establish new behaviours, innovate and solve problems.

Mark identified three key aspects of corporate respect for human rights in practice that require more attention from all stakeholders:

  1. Implementing corporate respect for human rights requires companies to bring about widespread, complex and sustained change across the organisation.
  2. Corporate respect for human rights involves a radical shift in a company’s relationships with the individuals and groups it impacts and interacts with.
  3. Respect for human rights regularly involves problem-solving. The UNGPs lead companies to tackle entrenched and endemic human rights abuses and development challenges, including by catalysing peers and governments to take action.

“Five years ago, and for the first time in history, governments from all regions of the world unanimously endorsed a framework for addressing the adverse effects of globalisation and corporate conduct on the rights of vulnerable individuals and communities. We are a long way from realising this framework, but that is no excuse to prematurely declare failure or to artificially manufacture a story of success. Instead, we should embrace the sheer scope, size and complexity of the task to implement all three pillars of the UNGPs. That seems only fitting, given the scale and gravity of the challenge.”