Human rights and business – what is shaping the current agenda?

May 13, 2022 | Articles, Guest Articles

It is hard to think of a time when the need for a more people-centric view of the world has been greater. With the disruption caused by the pandemic, and the huge shifts of population that we are seeing, both voluntary and involuntary, what does this mean for business?

Here are three of the top trends that are shaping the current agenda.

The first is the shift in focus from intent to impact. While for a long time there have been plenty of commitments and statements of good intent, only more recently has measurement started to catch up. This has been bolstered by the emergence of lead indicators coming to the fore.

In the past, lag indicators have historically prevailed, as a backwards look on what has happened. But now, lead indicators – indicators of what is yet to happen – are starting to prevail, and it is becoming possible to predict risk before it happens, and to intervene to mitigate it. Advances in approaches to more deeply understand workers are an example of this. Well-constructed “worker voice” methodologies give insight into the feelings and sentiments of workers and, if appropriately done, give lead indicators in potential human rights abuses and the vulnerability of people to exploitation. These approaches are already being used widely by leading businesses.

The second trend is the value now being put on human capital. Where people work, how they work and what they do were changing before the pandemic, but have now changed irreversibly. While automation, AI and machine learning are also on exponential growth curves, these have just focused business even more on the value of human input, and as we have seen with the Great Resignation, the cost of getting this wrong can be significant. Due diligence and risk mitigation are now switching to a more forward-looking approach of identifying where is the value-add, worker retention, and focusing on unlocking productivity.

The third trend is the realisation that success involves going beyond legal compliance and adherence to mandatory regulation. We have seen this with the various pieces of modern slavery legislation globally. While there is clearly a growing role for legislation and regulation in this space, proactive measures to stay ahead of regulation are gaining more and more interest. Toolkits such as integrated human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) are adding real value in this area, by opening up meaningful dialogue between businesses, stakeholders and rights-holders, and will no doubt be developed further.

The need to balance societal leadership with sustainable commercial outcomes is critically important. Moving from intent to impact, valuing the human capital in your supply chains and staying ahead of legislation and regulation, will enhance the viability of your business, and will be a key driver of your business’s long-term sustainability.




Author: David Meller, Independent Adviser