The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights
The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights takes place annually in Geneva. This is the third time that I have attended. Each year the queue to get your badge and get through the security check seems to get longer. Perhaps that’s a sign of more people attending, a reflection that the issue of how business does and should address human rights is a growing concern. Indeed in the panel on Tuesday chaired by Bob Mitchell it was highlighted that the issue of modern slavery in this century is one of the biggest challenges of our time.
The panel that shared their insights on their company responses to addressing the issue of modern slavery risk consisted of representatives from Walmart, Hilton, Apple Inc, Nestle, GRI and Nestle S.A, Responsible Business Alliance and the Consumer Goods Forum.
The diversity of the panel was reflected in the approaches that the companies were taking to address modern slavery. However, an overarching point that was made by most of the participants, was that modern slavery cannot be solved by one business or organisation on its own. Tom Smith from Walmart said that ‘partnership is the new leadership’ . Collaboration is seen as a key mechanism for addressing modern slavery.
A summary of the key points
A summary on how the company’s represented are responding to modern slavery risk in their organisation and supply chains are:
- Changing business risk thinking to human rights risk thinking
- Ensuring there is a code of conduct in place where the requirements are cascaded down into the supply chain beyond Tier 1 suppliers
- Introducing an employers’ pays policy. This means that any recruitment fees are borne by the employer and not the employee
- Ensure that CEOs buy into the programme
- Carrying out supply chain mapping
- Working collaboratively with NGOs
- Carrying out risk assessments
- Introducing training and make aspects of it mandatory
- Collaboration with other business within their sector
- Ensure remediation programmes are in place ad are effective.
Whilst a number of these points are not new, one has to consider that for many businesses that do not have the mature business models represented by the panel, undertaking some of these actions will be.
The thrust of the UN Forum this year was human rights due diligence. It seemed that conversations had matured and that there was an appetite for many participants to understand about the implementation of the procedures as opposed to simply raising awareness. I was, however conscious that many of the participants on this panel had been working in this field for some time and there was still a lack of strong representation from UK and European companies, particularly at SME level. Given the growth in legislation requiring companies to disclose on modern slavery risk and the steps they are taking to address this, including mandatory human rights due diligence, developing and sharing best practice is going to be key.
We have been working across sectors to help business and organisations develop their policies and procedures to ensure they are managing the risk of modern slavery or human rights. Training is a key element of this approach and Ardea International will continue to develop its online training programmes. If you would like to have a chat about anything raised in this blog, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.