Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Framework should help firms

July 2011

Corporate ‘preparedness’ on human rights risks is growing, but companies are in need of a clear and robust framework on the issue of business and human rights.

That’s according to research conducted by Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), which found that, though companies are increasingly aware of their responsibilities on human rights, the lack of a proper framework is making it difficult for them to act on them.

The IHRB report, which brings together the results of a 35-page survey completed by business leaders, CSR practitioners and government figures, shows that, though nearly all respondents believe business must respect the human rights of those their operations effect, only a third said their organizations measure their impact on human rights.

Reputation protection, meanwhile, was seen as the main motivation for businesses to ensure human rights compliance.

The IHRB says this shows the need for a stronger and more coherent global framework, adding that the current incompatibility of global regulation, and the variety of tools and methodologies available on the issue, is unhelpful.

Sandra Macleod, chief executive of Echo Research, who co-authored the report, said: ‘The results show that companies are aware of the importance of this issue and are trying to approach it in many different ways, which indicates a need to move to a more common approach that makes it more accessible and applicable for all.’

The research says that John Ruggie’s new ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ framework just passed by the United Nations (see page four) is ‘timely and necessary’.

However, the survey results on Ruggie’s guiding principles may be alarming: more than a quarter of respondents (29 per cent), who were predominantly CSR professionals or senior executives, had not even heard of the framework.

While 26 per cent professed themselves to be ‘very’ familiar with Ruggie’s work,  far more - 36 per cent – were only ‘somewhat’ familiar, and nine per cent admitted they had only heard of the framework and knew nothing else about it.

Other potentially worrying results in the area of leadership included the conviction of over half of respondents that the senior leadership team should not be responsible for human rights issues, and the news that only a third of companies have a formal policy on human rights. Insufficient awareness among key managers, meanwhile, was given as the reason for the failure of companies to create and implement human rights policies.

John Morrison, executive director of IHRB, said: ‘There is growing momentum around the business and human rights agenda. But the results of this survey also highlight the fact that business, civil society and government require far more clarity around expectations, concepts and approaches for addressing human rights-relevant issues.’

The IHRB has been encouraged, however, by the fact that  Ruggie’s framework was discussed at some length last month at a sitting of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on international Corporate Responsibility.

Institute for Human Rights and Business | Global | Human rights

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