Let’s talk business…and human rights (1st blog entry from a series on promoting OSH in the Supply Chain)
The concept of ‘Business and Human Rights’ has been creeping into many organisations’ line of vision as of late. In September 2013, the UK Government published an action plan to implement the so-called “Ruggie Principles”, A.K.A. the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. The fact is – it’s no longer just about mounting pressure exerted by internationally endorsed soft law instruments, such as the Global Compact or the aforementioned Guiding Principles. Regulation and legal requirements are set to increase in this sphere, particularly in relation to the supply chain. Obligations regarding disclosures on the sourcing of conflict minerals or anti-trafficking efforts are only the beginning.
Although there are ample arguments supporting why companies are rightly positioned to help battle human rights abuses, many are still baffled by what this responsibility to respect human rights means in practice.
This blog series will look at promoting good OSH practice in the supply chain. I will start off here by arguing that corporations should consider OSH beyond their organisation as part of their obligation to respect human rights under the Guiding Principles. Subsequently, I will present the business case for promoting OSH in the supply chain and provide practical starting points on how to do so.
So what is this rather vague notion of ‘human rights’ exactly and what can businesses do to uphold them?
For OSH professionals the answer to this question should be simple. In the frenzy of getting to grips with broad terms such as ‘human rights’ or ‘sustainability’, companies are failing to
a. realise that human rights fall under the social pillar of sustainability, and
b. recognise the important connection all of this has to labour practices and risk management
Human rights are essentially fundamental principles and standards that aim to secure dignity and equality for all.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is widely recognised as a core human rights instrument. Although extreme forms of child labour, slavery and trafficking might capture more attention, developing “a preventive safety and health culture in workplaces worldwide” is high on the ILO’s priority list. In the ILO at a glance report from 2008, the organization noted that more than 2 million people die from occupational accidents or work-related diseases globally each year, not to mention the total number of instances of each.
Even though they are often counted as separate KPIs under non-financial reporting frameworks, given the observed, it would be difficult to argue that good labour practices don’t advance the universal concept of human rights. This is particularly true when the former are being promoted outside the boundaries of an organisation, along the supply chain.
Suddenly, the opportunity to take an important step towards fulfilling ones obligations under Business and Human Rights frameworks becomes evident. Managing health and safety risks in the workspace is an area where many European companies have, or at least should have, developed significant understanding and expertise over the last decades. OSH professionals at focal companies, referred to by EU-OSHA as the company at the heart of a supply chain, have a lot of know-how and resources to share, whether with SMEs within Europe or suppliers situated in regions where adequate and enforced social welfare standards are lacking.
Focal Company – the company at the heart of the supply chain
Beyond legal compliance, why should businesses care? The mere mention of the Bangladeshi garment factory disasters should not only reinforce where OSH fits within the broader context of Business and Human Rights, but it should also be enough for one to begin formulating a solid business case for promoting OSH along the supply chain. I will leave the discussion on the drivers and benefits for businesses that chose to engage with their supply chain on OSH for the next time.