Moving The World Forward Toward a More Sustainable Future: The Member Nations of the United Nations, Working Collaboratively For Progress in the 21st Century

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

“The United Nations” began as a World War II era concept as President Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the allies of the United States partnering in the fight to save democracy and collectively battling the regimes of fascist dictators in Europe and Asia.

On January 1, 1942, 26 nations “united” in Washington DC to battle the “Axis” powers.  In February the president addressed the nation in his 20th “fireside chat” (broadcasting nationwide on the radio) to talk about the progress of the war.

The U.S. was coming from far behind in terms of preparedness, and so an important part of the progress in this, the start of the first year of U.S. involvement in the global conflict, President Roosevelt explained to the nation of 125 million souls:

“The United Nations constitutes an association of independent peoples of equal dignity and equal importance. The United Nations are dedicated to a common cause. We share equally and with equal zeal the anguish and the awful sacrifices of war. In the partnership of our common enterprise, we must share in a unified plan in which all of us must play our several parts, each of us being equally indispensable and dependent one on the other.

“We have unified command and cooperation and comradeship. We of the United Nations are agreed on certain broad principles in the kind of peace we seek. The Atlantic Charter applies not only to the parts of the world that border the Atlantic [Ocean)] but to the whole world; disarmament of aggressors, self-determination of nations and peoples, and the four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.”

The leader of the free world at of that era envisioned an organization that could bring about a new world ordering, to assure peace and prosperity.  President Franklin Roosevelt passed away in April 1945; soon the global conflict ended; and then what he long envisioned became the possible:

On October 24, 1945, 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to sign on to the “United Nations Conference on International Organizations” – and the UN as we know it today was launched.  (We celebrate UN Day on 24 October in commemoration of that historic event.)

Today the UN has 193 members – sovereign states that have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world’s largest intergovernmental organization – a forum for governments, not a world government.  And within the organization are important initiatives that have been shaping corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability, and for capital markets, sustainable investing.  These are agencies, programs, institutes, global collaborations, and other entities.

You know some of them as the UN Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI); the UN Global Compact 9UNGC); the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the work of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Today we are hearing quite a bit in the corporate sector and in the capital markets about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 1948); the UN has been the driving force behind 80-plus “human rights laws”.  Consider:  the declaration has been translated into 380 languages, says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights..

We are sharing with you three recent highlights from the UN universe.   First, an update from the UNGC CEO Lisa Kingo, stressing that now is the time for society to invest in the 1.5C future…”there never has been a time”, she points out, “like today for coming together and jumpstarting a worldwide transformation towards a more inclusive and sustainable net-zero economy.”

Also from the UNGC, news of the launch of the Ocean Stewardship 2030 Report – to be a roadmap for how ocean-related industries and policymakers can jointly secure a healthy and productive ocean by 2030.

We are now in the Decade of Action on the Global Goals (the SDGs). The UNGC is an initiative of the UN Secretary General, a call to companies everywhere to align their operations and strategies with 10 universal principles focused on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is today an independent global foundation that was birthed by the United Nations, building on the principles advanced for corporate responsibility by the NGO Ceres (based in Boston). An organization known for a philosophy of “constant improvement”, GRI has organized an Agriculture and Fishing Project Working Group that will lead the work to create a new sustainability standard for ag & fishing.

This is part of the work of GRI’s New Sector Program – a multi-stakeholder group will move forward the initiative to help companies with ag and fishing in their value chains promote transparency and accountability, and better understand their role in sustainable development.

It’s almost 80 years now since President Franklin Roosevelt – one of the most progressive leaders in U.S. history – conceived of the “united nations”, a necessity to bring together the resources of other nations to fight a war on all of the continents, whose outcome was then uncertain.

In November 2010 Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted:  “Sadly, FDR never saw the fruits of his efforts.  He died weeks before the founding conference. Yet his vision lives on in the UN Charter’s collective commitment to peace and security, economic and social welfare, tolerance and fundamental human rights.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. This legacy of multilateral cooperation guides us today…”

Top Stories

OOPS
In the June 8th issue of our newsletter (Highlights), with headline “Will We Ever See SEC Rules/Guidance for Corporate ESG Disclosure and Reporting?  The Question Hangs in the Wind..”  We incorrectly identified the corporate reporting regulations being reviewed by the Securities & Exchange Commission – should have said “Reg S-K” (not Reg F-D).  Sorry for the any confusion caused.  A more complete commentary on all of this is here on our blog.

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.