Companies assessed in this Benchmark, particularly those in the middle and lower bands, should see the clear case for implementing their corporate responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles. Companies should take the opportunity to study the CHRB Pilot Methodology and Addendum as well as their company score cards and assess where improvements can be made. The 2017 results indicate there are opportunities to improve across the full spectrum of policies and governance, embedding respect and human rights due diligence, ensuring effective remedy, performance, and transparency.
The leading companies’ approaches and emerging practices provide a crucial chance to learn from peers within and across industries, and improve preventative measures as well as effective remedies for victims. Equally, tools such as the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, Global Reporting Initiative, and other reporting guidelines indicate the minimum information stakeholders are expecting to see around company implementation.
Experience counts, as it takes time to put systems and practices in place. Those that are underway with these efforts deserve due credit for their efforts, whether as leaders, or falling in the middle bands but working on implementation behind the scenes. Those that have yet to start implementing their human rights responsibilities must begin, as further delay runs the high risk of often preventable abuses occurring.
Investors have an opportunity to support the step change that is needed to encourage companies to embed the UN Guiding Principles. Institutional investors are of course also businesses. They should therefore consider how they embed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights within their own operations, including how they encourage companies to which they deploy capital to ensure they respect human rights. This is particularly the case for equity investors, where they have voting influence through the rights of share ownership.
Investors can use CHRB’s company-specific results as part of their overall investment analysis and capital allocation decision-making, particularly where they consider human rights to be material to the sector and performance is lacking. Investor engagement should focus in particular on the policy, governance and management frameworks, as well as the need for commitments to be followed through. Investors are encouraged to use their voting and engagement influence to promote better practice, particularly amongst those in the bottom bands. This includes questioning company management on key human rights risks during one-to-one meetings, as well as taking voting action on director re-election, board pay, and particularly the vote on the Report and Accounts at company Annual General Meetings.
Governments play a critical role in protecting human rights alongside companies respecting them.
With these results, policy-makers and regulators now have a new means to help them focus on those companies and industries that have significant human rights risks and impacts, and those underperforming despite these risks and impacts.
Governments should recognise and reward those companies showing they are seeking to respect human rights and taking on the many challenges that this entails. Their example demonstrates what is possible. It also opens a space for governments to use a smart mix of regulation and incentives to enhance transparency and minimum standards of corporate behaviour and make the business case for respecting human rights.
Governments should identify their most powerful levers to protect human rights that emerge from the 2017 results and take action to strengthen due diligence, remedy, and practices around key industry risks.
This includes within National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights, public procurement policies and processes, due diligence processes of export credit agencies, and other such measures.
CIVIL SOCIETY, WORKERS, COMMUNITIES, MEDIA AND CUSTOMERS
The Benchmark is designed to empower civil society, workers, communities, customers, and the media with better public information to reward, encourage, and promote human rights advances by companies and make well-informed choices about which companies to engage with.
History shows that one of the biggest motivating factors in getting companies started is the risk to their reputation that comes with human rights issues being made high profile. Equally, it takes determination to keep improving, and the human rights advocates within companies gain substantial influence from the public reward that companies receive when they enhance their human rights-related policies and performance.
This constituency has played a powerful role over the years in moving the needle on corporate performance, and the CHRB is intended to further empower all actors with an objective way of focusing their efforts and interventions.
The gap between the leaders and laggards can be bridged. It will be particularly important for civil society, workers, communities, customers, and the media to engage those companies in the middle and lower bands to understand what more they could be doing when it comes to human rights.