Operationalising and embedding human rights across an organisation
By Craig Melson, techUK
techUK hosted a conference in London on ‘Human Rights and tech supply chains’ on the 2nd of April 2019. Colleen Theron, Director of Ardea International moderated a panel discussion with Pratab Tambe from Tata Consultancy Services, Latifa Chomoko from PWC and Charlotte Kirby from Salesforce. This is a summary of the key points arising from the panel discussion and questions:
- The need to change corporate culture: A human rights first culture will only be embedded if it is fully integrated into corporate culture at all levels, not just seen as a reporting or due diligence requirement that sits in procurement or legal. This also means not seeing work through a CSR lens too, it is important to have human rights risks understood at all levels.
- Leadership buy in: Panellists emphasised that senior level buy in is key so they can take overall responsibility and ensure training and awareness is dissipated. If struggling, it is good to show company leaders two plausible real risks and threats to human rights than that will turn heads.
- Training: As well as discussing how to generate senior buy-in, middle management and executive training is important too. Some businesses have a programme of education and awareness, starting with procurement teams. The Modern Slavery Act created impetus and saw businesses use training exercises that tailored human rights to specific job functions.
- Partnerships: Having policies, procedures and due diligence is good, but companies need to partner with NGOs and organisations in the operating regions to achieve those policies and generate impact. This also means training and education for indeed partnerships has its own SDG (17).
- Working as a sector: Co-operation with competitors who share the same supply chains and risk profiles can magnify impact. No-one should compete on sustainability, adherence to the SDGs or human rights. This could include developing reporting standards, responses to bad practice and impact measurement.
- Securing time and resources: Education, a good corporate culture and understanding of the risks means companies will invest, especially if there is real or perceived pressure from stakeholders such as investors.
- Human rights risks are tangible human rights risks: For some firms with a lower perceived risks or lack of awareness of human rights, a way to win people over is highlighting the tangible business benefits of better supply chain engagement and transparency. However in an ideal world the moral imperative should be enough.
- Education of staff: Volunteering and training is an excellent way to get staff to understand the human side of what can be seen as a distant environment. Getting people out their comfort zones builds resolve to try and address human rights and sustainability issues in supply chains and vulnerable regions. Then empower staff to come up with a partial answer to supply chain or human rights issue that utilises their day-job expertise.
- Corporate frameworks: Human rights can be embedded by following processes for other areas that need frameworks or due diligence (for example on-boarding or finance). All these frameworks are around minimisations, measurements and reporting human rights can be assessed that way.
- Technology can bring make things easier: Existing and emerging technologies can help supply chain transparency and do more in depth analysis and risks, so should play a major role in the actual operationalisation of human rights, particularly digital identity and blockchain solutions. However, firms should be ready to act on the disclosures this will reveal and have processes to act on the risks and instances the technology finds.
- Blockchain can be transformational: Distributed Ledger Technology is an incredible opportunity to generate data on every incident and actor in a supply chain and if integrated with other datasets is an important tool indeed.
- Disclosure and supplier training: Companies are averse to disclosing human rights abuses that exist, but disclosure is important especially if accompanied by steps on remedying the issues. Panellists advocated against disengaging the supplier as it is better to work with organisations in the supply trains than create a risk of workers being exploited elsewhere.