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In Focus

Respect in Practice

Emerging Trends and Developments

Integrating human rights considerations into business relationships

Processes to identify and respond to the risks of involvement in adverse human rights impacts through a company’s business relationships are essential to embedding respect for human rights in practice.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) make clear that a company can be involved with adverse human rights impacts in different ways – through its own activities and through its business relationships. Examples of adverse human rights impacts associated with business relationships span a wide spectrum – from child labour impacts within suppliers’ operations, violent abuse by security forces, misuse of technology, violent appropriation of land by government partners, to exploitation of migrant workers by labour providers, amongst many others. Consequences for companies have included civil society campaigns, media criticism, and legal claims that seek accountability and assignment of liability between business partners.

A growing number of companies recognise the business case for working with partners to better integrate responsible business practices and operationalise respect for human rights as a core part of their relationships. Potential benefits include: reduced operational disruption; efficiency gains; diminished reputational risks (of actual or perceived involvement in human rights abuse); improved access to capital and markets; and the avoidance of legal claims. As a result, some companies have taken action to establish socially sustainable business practices and value chains with their business partners in many sectors, and this is increasingly reflected in policy commitments, codes of conduct, and company assessments and audits. The use of leverage by companies within their business relationships has the potential to transform the way that they, and other stakeholders, tackle the complex problems relating to negative human rights impacts, and companies’ use of leverage to influence others is a common element of efforts to address some of the most complex, intractable and systemic business-related human rights challenges.


Business Approaches Insights and Observations

  • Maintaining focus on managing human rights throughout the lifecycle of the business relationship

    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

    “ GBI is one of our principal engagements in the human rights area. The uniqueness of GBI’s peer learning is the depth to which we go in our meetings. In GBI meetings we’re constantly striving to understand how did members accomplish what they did and, very importantly, what were the pitfalls and issues along the way. You don’t see many networks where the members can be so open and so candid about what were the problems they confronted, what were the failures that they suffered – and those are oftentimes more valuable from a learning standpoint than the successes. ”

    Bruce Klafter,
    Vice-President, Corporate Social & Environmental Responsibility,
    Flex

    “ GBI brings together the best and brightest minds in the world of business and human rights around one trusting table. The level of trust makes GBI not only a source of knowledge and best practice, but most importantly a generator of empowerment. Coming to GBI and learning from each other really helps bring a genuine conversation about opportunities, challenges and real, tangible solutions, not just a generic reiteration of the UNGPs – we all know them by heart – but through GBI we focus on how to bring them to life in a way that is practical and successful. ”

    Caroline Meledo,
    Corporate Responsibility Manager, EMEA,
    Hilton

  • Upscaling internal training and capacity building on human rights risks in business relationships

    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

  • Prioritising effectively and ‘impactfully’ where capacity is limited

    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

  • Utilising innovative initiatives and collaborative approaches

    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

  • Understanding the scope responsibility for remediation in business relationships

    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

    “ GBI brings together the best and brightest minds in the world of business and human rights around one trusting table. The level of trust makes GBI not only a source of knowledge and best practice, but most importantly a generator of empowerment. Coming to GBI and learning from each other really helps bring a genuine conversation about opportunities, challenges and real, tangible solutions, not just a generic reiteration of the UNGPs – we all know them by heart – but through GBI we focus on how to bring them to life in a way that is practical and successful. ”

    Caroline Meledo,
    Corporate Responsibility Manager, EMEA,
    Hilton

    “ GBI is a unique mechanism that informs and enhances Vale’s human rights work. The peer learning substance, unique group culture, and input from experts offers us multiple concrete actions we can apply across the business. ”

    Liesel Filgueiras,
    Human Rights, Indigenous Community Relations,
    International Community Relations, Vale

    “ Total has put in place a human rights programme but within GBI we learn from the strength areas of other industries. This enables us to see our own blind spots and apply new tactics and tools. A particular strength of GBI is the honesty and trust that has formed between peers. This enables very frank and open dialogue on pressing matters for Total. ”

    Philip Jordan,
    Chairman,
    Ethics Committee, Total

    “ Total has put in place a human rights programme but within GBI we learn from the strength areas of other industries. This enables us to see our own blind spots and apply new tactics and tools. A particular strength of GBI is the honesty and trust that has formed between peers. This enables very frank and open dialogue on pressing matters for Total. ”

    Chairman,
    Director,
    Ethics Committee, Total

Read what The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights say about business Relationships

“Business relationships refer to those relationships a business enterprise has with business partners, entities in its value chain and any other non-State or State entity directly linked to its business operations, products or services. They include indirect business relationships in its value chain, beyond the first tier, and minority as well as majority shareholding positions in joint ventures.”

OHCHR UNGPs Interpretive Guide

  • Maintaining focus on managing human rights throughout the lifecycle of the business relationship
    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.
  • Prioritising effectively and ‘impactfully’ where capacity is limited
    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.
  • Utilising innovative initiatives and collaborative approaches
    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

    “ GBI is one of our principal engagements in the human rights area. The uniqueness of GBI’s peer learning is the depth to which we go in our meetings. In GBI meetings we’re constantly striving to understand how did members accomplish what they did and, very importantly, what were the pitfalls and issues along the way. You don’t see many networks where the members can be so open and so candid about what were the problems they confronted, what were the failures that they suffered – and those are oftentimes more valuable from a learning standpoint than the successes. ”

    Bruce Klafter,
    Vice-President, Corporate Social & Environmental Responsibility,
    Flex

    “ GBI brings together the best and brightest minds in the world of business and human rights around one trusting table. The level of trust makes GBI not only a source of knowledge and best practice, but most importantly a generator of empowerment. Coming to GBI and learning from each other really helps bring a genuine conversation about opportunities, challenges and real, tangible solutions, not just a generic reiteration of the UNGPs – we all know them by heart – but through GBI we focus on how to bring them to life in a way that is practical and successful. ”

    Caroline Meledo,
    Corporate Responsibility Manager, EMEA,
    Hilton

  • Understanding the scope responsibility for remediation in business relationships
    Companies are increasingly focussing training for key functions on how to spot ‘red flags’ and ask the right questions to identify human rights risks early in the relationship. Building knowledge and capacity of legal, business development, procurement teams and other relevant functions to incorporate a human rights lens into the early phases of transactional processes provides opportunities to avoid risks later in the relationship. Once identified, these functions need to know how to take next steps to alert of the risk and escalate internally appropriately. To aid this process, some companies produce a ‘roadmap’ of business relationships and relevant risk management processes and guidance for incorporation for each kind of business relationship.

Read what the UN Guiding Principles say about Leverage

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) set an expectation that, where a company is involved in an adverse human rights impact through contribution or direct linkage, it should use its leverage in the relevant business relationship(s), seeking that the third party take steps to prevent, mitigate and – if necessary – remediate the impact. In other words, where a contribution or direct linkage exists and something bad has happened, a company should do something, even if it is unable to fix the problem itself or single-handed.

This expectation reflects societal expectations, is informing business practice, and has since been incorporated into other key international standards, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Companies have to engage with and talk about human rights with a range of stakeholders in a range of geographies around the world.

This includes:

  • Building the awareness and capacity of local colleagues in different parts of the company and subsidiaries around the world to manage human rights risks.
  • Communicating expectations and standards with business partners around the world, including in high-risk countries. This includes suppliers, joint venture partners, franchises, customers.
  • Engaging with governments on the human rights context in specific markets.
  • Interacting with rights-holders, workers and communities. Companies are often (directly or indirectly) involved in informing and educating rights-holders on what their rights are.

Key questions and considerations for business as they engage on human rights include:

  • What is the human rights context here? How familiar are various stakeholders with human rights discourse?
  • Should we use human rights language and terminology?
  • How can we translate this into operational language that our colleagues and business partners will understand?
  • What do people need to know?

Led business dialogues in 10 key emerging and developing markets - India, Colombia, Egypt, Brazil, Malaysia, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, China, Indonesia, and South Africa.

Discussed 60 topics related to how companies can do business with respect for human rights – including human rights journeys, identifying and understanding human rights impacts, setting strategy and building policy, addressing grievances and dealing with remedy, responding to specific human rights impacts such as forced and child labour, security and human rights, communitycompany relations and many more.

Engaged 1500 companies – ilargest and most prominent businesses in those given

Discussed 60 topics related to how companies can do business with respect for human rights – including human rights journeys, identifying and understanding human rights impacts, setting strategy and building policy, addressing grievances and dealing with remedy, responding to specific human rights impacts such as forced and child labour, security and human rights, communitycompany relations and many more.

Partnered with 37 national, regional and international organisations in key emerging and developing markets

Engaged 1500 companies – including the largest and most prominent businesses in those given countries and private and state-owned enterprises including Sinopec, Asia Pulp and Paper, COSCO, Tata Group, Lonmin, Nedbank, Emirates, Infosys, China Mobile, Bank Negara Indonesia, Safaricom.

Partnered with 37 national, regional and international organisations in key emerging and developing markets

Looking Forward: How do we build on these Insights and Practices?

Holding text here for further development post interviews with companies and advisors.

  • Online learning modules
  • In-person training
  • Standalone and integrated human rights modules
  • Voluntary and mandatory training
  • General training and issue-specific training
  • Deep dive workshops
  • Role plays to build knowledge and empathy
  • Networks of advisors and champions
  • Examination and certification processes
  • Smartphone apps
  • Leadership summits
  • Guides and manuals

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  • Business relationships include relationships with business partners, entities in a company’s value chain and entities directly linked to the company’s operations, products or services (GP 13 Commentary).
  • Companies should avoid contributing to adverse impacts and seek to prevent or mitigate those that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships (GP 13).
  • Human rights due diligence should be initiated as early as possible in the development of a new relationship given that human rights risks can be increased or mitigated at the stage of structuring contracts, and may be inherited through mergers and acquisitions (GP 17 Commentary).
  • Companies should identify general areas where the risk of adverse impacts is most significant and prioritise these for human rights due diligence where the number of entities in the value chain makes it unreasonably difficult to conduct due diligence across all entities (GP 17 Commentary).
  • Assessments of human rights impact should be undertaken prior to a new relationship and periodically through the life of the relationship (GP 18 Commentary).
  • Appropriate action in situations of direct linkage will depend on the company’s leverage, how crucial the relationship is, the severity of the abuse and whether terminating the relationship will have adverse human rights consequences (GP 19 Commentary).
  • If a company has leverage to prevent or mitigate an adverse impact, it should exercise it. And if it lacks leverage there may be ways to increase it (GP 19 Commentary).

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.


This is my demo testimonials

“GBI brings together the best and brightest minds in the world of business and human rights around one trusting table. The level of trust makes GBI not only a source of knowledge and best practice, but most importantly a generator of empowerment. Coming to GBI and learning from each other really helps bring a genuine conversation about opportunities, challenges and real, tangible solutions, not just a generic reiteration of the UNGPs – we all know them by heart – but through GBI we focus on how to bring them to life in a way that is practical and successful.”
Caroline Meledo, Corporate Responsibility Manager, EMEA, Hilton
“GBI is a unique mechanism that informs and enhances Vale’s human rights work. The peer learning substance, unique group culture, and input from experts offers us multiple concrete actions we can apply across the business.”
Liesel Filgueiras, Human Rights, Indigenous Community Relations, International Community Relations, Vale
“For Vale, the importance of GBI is very significant. We’ve been a member since 2012, and it’s been an extremely positive experience to engage with other companies and learn from different experiences and sectors.”
Liesel Filgueiras, General Manager Human Rights, Indigenous Communities, Vale Volunteer Program and International Community Relations, Vale
“GBI is one of our principal engagements in the human rights area. The uniqueness of GBI’s peer learning is the depth to which we go in our meetings. In GBI meetings we’re constantly striving to understand how did members accomplish what they did and, very importantly, what were the pitfalls and issues along the way. You don’t see many networks where the members can be so open and so candid about what were the problems they confronted, what were the failures that they suffered – and those are oftentimes more valuable from a learning standpoint than the successes.”
Bruce Klafter, Vice-President, Corporate Social & Environmental Responsibility, Flex
“GBI is consistently the best practice-sharing, peer learning program I’m part of. The quality of both the leaders of the program and the participants is such that, when you walk in and start a dialogue on a particular issue, you’re starting at a level where whatever you’re discussing is something you can immediately use back at your worksite and within your program.”
Paul Lalli, Global Counsel – Labor and Human Rights, GE
“Total has put in place a human rights programme but within GBI we learn from the strength areas of other industries. This enables us to see our own blind spots and apply new tactics and tools. A particular strength of GBI is the honesty and trust that has formed between peers. This enables very frank and open dialogue on pressing matters for Total.”
Chairman, Director, Ethics Committee, Total
“Total has put in place a human rights programme but within GBI we learn from the strength areas of other industries. This enables us to see our own blind spots and apply new tactics and tools. A particular strength of GBI is the honesty and trust that has formed between peers. This enables very frank and open dialogue on pressing matters for Total.”
Philip Jordan, Chairman, Ethics Committee, Total