Corporate Human Rights Performance — Benchmarking and Ranking of Global Companies

by Hank Boerner – G&A Institute

Interesting news out of Switzerland today — the first wide scale project to rank up to 500 global companies on their human rights performance was launched, and corporate human rights performance in key sectors will be researched and ranked over the coming months.  The first sectors in focus are Agriculture, Apparel, Extractives, and Information and Communications Technology.

This is the new Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (“CHRB”).

The organizers of the long-term project include Aviva Investors; Business and Human Rights Resource Center; EIRIS; the Institute for Human Rights and Business; and VBDO (a sustainable investment forum for SR investors in the Netherlands).  The Corporate Roundtable (ICAR) has endorsed the project.

In announcing the project, the organizers said that investors, companies and consumers are increasingly aware of the impacts of business on human rights.  The project will share the first publicly-available (open source) information on corporate policies, processes and performance on human rights…including what managements are doing to address negative impacts, and what they can do to scale resources.

Among recent positive developments the organizers citied:

  • A year after the Rana Plaza factory fire in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Accord has spurred on greater transparency, with increased public reporting on factory inspections.
  • Beverage industry giants Coca Cola Company and PepsiCo have committed to Zero Tolerance policies on “land grabs.”
  • The European Union is committed to restricting exports of spyware surveillance technologies because of human rights concerns.
  • The recently-adopted Conflict Mineral legislation in the United States has resulted in a 65% drop in armed groups profiting from illegal mining trade.

Backgrounds of the partnering organizations in the project:

  • Aviva Investors – global asset management business, and part of Aviva plc, one of the UK’s largest insurance services providers.
  • Business and Human Rights Resource Centre – international NGO that tracks human rights impact of 5,600 companies in 180+ countries, with information available in 7 languages.
  • Calvert Investments – influential US investment management firm and long-time recognized leader in advancing sustainable & responsible investment strategies.
  • EIRIS – global leader in ESG research and SRI strategies (UK based with members in the EU).
  • Institute for Human Rights and Business – global “think and do” tank, providing “impartial space for dialogue to deepen understanding of human rights challenges and the [appropriate] role of business.”
  • VBDO – The Dutch association of institutional investors promoting  sustainable development; members consider both financial and ESG criteria for their investments.

Over the next 3 years the 6 organizations — organized as the “CHRB Steering Group” — will conduct a worldwide “consultation” on the methodology and results with diverse stakeholders, and collect and release information on 500 companies’ human rights performance.  The information will be open source, and available to company managements, investors, the public sector, local communities, and NGOs.

Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors commented:  “Our benchmark will introduce a positive competitive environment and companies try to race to the top of the annual ranking.  [The effort] will also shine a light on those [companies] where performance needs to improve.

“It took more than 60 years from the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were developed.

“We believe that within 6 years of their approval, we can help to make these Guiding Principles routine corporate practice through the development and use of the Benchmark.”

Information is available through EIRIS:  contact is Stephen Hine, head of Responsible Investment Development – Stephen.hine@eiris.org

Note that the team at Governance & Accountability Institute identifies, tracks and monitors third party recognitions of companies for a variety of [their] achievements. These include scores, rankings, ratings, and “best of” lists.  This is definitely a growth business, and the third party actions can have influence on a company’s reputation and capital markets valuation.  Investors and other third parti4s will be watching the new human rights benchmarking as the project moves forward.

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