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GRI at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights
Towards Meaningful Human Rights Reporting
Ten December, Human Rights Day, is a good occasion to remember that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call on businesses to communicate how they address their human rights impacts, and that sustainability reporting can be an effective tool in this endeavor. To bring home the point, GRI engaged with businesses, civil society and other organizations, to discuss “Business respect for human rights – building on what works”, at the 7th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, between 26 and 28 November.
Participants at the UN Forum coincided in that while much progress has been made and good human rights reporting practice is emerging, there is still a gap between leading practice and how most businesses report on human rights due diligence.
This is confirmed by the results of the 2018 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark – which assesses the human rights policies, processes, and practices of 101 of the world's largest publicly traded companies in the apparel, agricultural products, and extractives sectors. Companies scored an average of 3.2 out of 10 in transparency – pointing to a lack of willingness to disclose information and the low quality of the information that is actually disclosed. This reluctance to disclose information about risks to human rights and company’s efforts to address them can be attributed to the perception that disclosure leads to liability when, in fact, experts agree that the opposite is the case: risk lies in non-disclosure.
During the session that GRI convened, “Toward meaningful corporate human rights reporting”, there was much reflection about what this all could mean, from all actors at the table, including Shift, IIRC, the Alliance for Corporate Transparency, Nestlé and Rio Tinto. Discussion centered around what is needed to increase and improve corporate reporting on human rights, and how the current reporting practice can be improved.
It was agreed that reporting needs to go beyond stating general policies and processes or other generic quantitative metrics. It must look at the processes through which companies make decisions that have an impact on human rights. For reporting to be meaningful, businesses need to talk about the challenges that they face and provide specific examples of how policies and processes are applied in practice. Organizations should also take a forward-looking approach and provide clear targets and goals to show how they are intending to address their impacts.
Finally, human rights due diligence should become integral to the management system of a business and the way it conducts business, rather than a process that gets treated as a separate element within the company. This should also be reflected in reporting by making sure that human rights is an integral part of a report instead of a standalone piece.
For its part, GRI wants to help promote meaningful disclosure of human rights impacts, and is currently working to update the GRI human rights-related Standards to reflect international frameworks and expectations and ensure they push for best practice, and has other projects that provide companies with specific guidance on human rights issues like modern slavery and conflict minerals.
Forums like the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights help drive the agenda for more meaningful human rights reporting. They give business the opportunity to engage with other actors and understand other perspectives as to why disclosures are needed, and what the business case for transparency truly is. So on Human Rights Day, GRI would like reaffirm its commitment to helping shape and drive the human rights reporting agenda, and support companies to ensure respect for human rights through meaningful reporting.