1.Integrate modern slavery policies etc into existing sustainability agendas
Environmental awareness has long been a feature of corporate sustainability agendas, but businesses are increasingly turning their attention to their social impact. There is a growing trend, particularly among younger consumers, showing spending habits moving away from previously popular or ‘fashionable’ brands towards those branding themselves as more broadly ‘ethically conscious’.
The importance of integrating human rights and modern slavery policies into existing sustainability agendas cannot be overstated. This does not mean simply slipping a paragraph on human rights compliance into an annual report or as a footnote in procurement contracts, but fully integrating human rights principles into company culture. Instead you could consider:
- appointing a specialist business and human right expert to the board of directors,
- including clauses on labour rights in supplier contracts, or
- giving prominence to a stand-alone human rights policy within the broader corporate governance framework.
Embedding human rights and anti-slavery into existing sustainability and responsible sourcing efforts is vital to adopt a holistic approach to ethical business and retain that rapidly growing and ethically-conscious consumer base.
2.Integrating risk management and compliance
Integrating risk management and compliance with sustainability departments is another way to illustrate your company’s commitment to accountability. Companies are already beginning to integrate their compliance and risk management within their environmental, social and governance structures. Ardea has been working with companies using this approach for some time. A recent example has been Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club’s creation of an ethics and compliance committee recognising that protecting reputation and mitigating risk requires a more integrated approach.
There is also a growing need to ensure that companies manage their human rights and environmental compliance in an integrated way. IEMA worked in collaboration with Ardea to produce a guide for practitioners: “Managing compliance with environmental and human rights laws in organisations”. The guide clearly outlines the legal and moral duties that organisations must understand and comply with, and gives clear guidance on the considerations of growing businesses, innovation and creating value without degrading our environment or harming society. It offers members clarity and practical advice through context-setting, checklists, step-by-step charts and case studies.
The idea of embedding human rights principles in business operations is not novel – issues such as modern slavery, are particularly spotlit through media headlines on exploitation and malpractice. It is therefore essential that companies stay ahead of the curve and are ready to act on the latest revelations.
This includes thinking creatively when implementing anti-slavery initiatives and could involve identifying mismatches between international guidance and current business practice, or considering creative ways to bridge the gaps between that guidance and national laws or business culture. This is particularly relevant when companies operate subsidiaries across the globe. A 2018 report on how to resolve conflict between the UN Guiding Principles and national laws is a particularly helpful starting point.
4.Make new partnerships
Companies are fully aware and rightly apprehensive at the idea of tackling the thorny issue of transparency in management, supply and subcontracting models. Often, individual businesses cannot thoroughly address modern slavery without collaborating with other companies, communities or charities.
Multi-stakeholder initiatives are a fantastic way for businesses to collaborate with peers, sharing best practice and learning how they can impact human rights and join the collective anti-slavery movement. Some groups such as FairTrade focus on accreditation. Others, such as Ethical Trading Initiative engage business members to help them adhere to labour standards and work with suppliers on these issues too.
Companies can make an immediate difference to the life of a trafficked person through work placement schemes or philanthropy. The Co-op’s well-established Bright Futures programme, for example, leads a group of businesses committed to finding jobs for victims of trafficking. Given the high rate of re-trafficking that occurs even after victims are identified and removed from exploitation, steady employment is a crucial way of helping them to gain a steady income, accommodation and lifestyle to keep them out of exploitation.5.
5.Look to the broader human rights issues
Modern slavery is currently the primary focus for businesses, owing largely to the growing body of modern slavery and human trafficking laws around the world. There are plenty of other issues, however, that impact both the workplace and operations elsewhere – companies should look to how they can uphold human rights more broadly to commit fully to minimising negative social impact.
The ILO’s gender equality programme, for example, focuses on equal opportunity for work and pay for men and women: companies could consider implementing a gender equality code or joining an initiative that partners with women’s rights charities and NGOs on the ground in supplier countries. Improving the working lives of women, particularly in factories and on farms at primary production stage can be a 2019 priority.
Ethical investing or impact investment is also a growing area. Where companies can invest in ethically sourced goods, environmentally responsible conservation or farming initiatives they should. Using natural resources responsibly improves working conditions and quality of life for local communities; when demand for production lessens pressure on workers, communities are left with safe, healthy, clean and sustainable environments and livelihoods.6.
6.Linking environmental and human rights due diligence
The growth in mandatory reporting is not diminishing. In addition to the requirements that companies report on their environmental impacts, they are increasingly having to report on their human rights impacts and to refer to the due diligence framework that they rely on, for example the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Human rights and environmental impacts are frequently interrelated with one inevitably impinging on the other. Modern slavery is a classic example where labour exploitation, a gross human rights abuse, almost always destroys the environment, industries such as fisheries and technology are particularly important examples.
Consequently, protection of human rights is increasingly being enshrined in law alongside environmental due diligence. The 2014 EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive, for example, requires approximately 6000 companies across Europe to report on their environmental, social and human rights impacts alongside disclosing information on diversity in their board rooms and anti-corruption and bribery efforts. In the UK the 2006 Companies Act similarly requires businesses to disclose information about their environmental, social and human rights impacts.