The challenges companies face in addressing human rights

In a series of business and human rights webinars, Mazars Global Head of Human Rights Richard Karmel has explained how human rights has evolved and its role in business.

In his latest video, which can be seen on Richard’s YouTube channel and via the link below, he explains three key issues that companies face when addressing human rights.

Despite over 80% of respondents to The Economist Unit’s survey on Business and Human Rights confirming that business had a role to play in respecting human rights, it is apparent that many businesses are not so clear on what this means to their core activities.

Richard Karmel's Mazars Webinar

Click on the image to watch Richard's latest webinar

Below is a summary of the transcript from the video, which sees Richard explain some of the challenges and what can be done to address them.

Three key insights from The Economist Unit’s survey on Business and Human Rights are:

  1. Companies are finding it difficult to understand what human rights means to them;
  2. Lack of access to appropriate resource to address the issues
  3. In sufficient education

Issue 1 – Understanding

Understanding what human rights means to a company is a big question and an excellent starting point. Human rights means so many different things to many different people. As a single term its meaning can get lost, as we all have a different ideas as to what human rights mean.

Respect for human rights can look very different for companies in different industries; so it’s really important for a company to understand what it means to them and for their corporate activities.

For example, the salient human rights related issues in the garment industry will often be based around workers’ rights in the supply chain, health and safety, minimum wage and potentially child labour. Whereas in the extractive industry, the salient human rights issues are likely to be about security, community engagement, working with indigenous people and land acquisition.

Once human rights is translated in these ways, companies will be able to begin to embed them within the wider business strategy. For example, it may be easier for a company to react quickly if an issue is phrased as a land acquisition problem more than if it is raised as a human rights issue without further explanation.

Issue 2 – Resource

Even once a company understands its salient human rights issues, most still struggle to implement change they don’t have the sufficient resource with appropriate skills. The reality is that most companies will not have this in place because there aren’t yet appropriate and widespread education and training modules to address companies’ needs in this area.

Issue 3 – Education

However, the market will evolve over the next five to ten years. I see there being many more training providers who will be able to help companies with their education.  This is not only as a reaction to all the voluntary initiatives, but also the various pieces of legislation being enacted all over the world that fall under the human rights wrapper eg Modern Slavery Act 2015.