Have you ever wondered which companies are working to respect the basic rights of workers producing the food and clothes that end up on our high streets? The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark provides a useful reference, writes Ben Rutledge.
The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) has just launched its second league table, ranking some of the world’s largest companies in terms of their approach to respecting workers, consumers and communities.
The Benchmark is based on an external analysis of publicly available information on corporate policy and practice, and how companies respond to allegations of abuse.
That's important because, as the CHRB itself has pointed out, "without a sound commitment to human rights and implementation through due diligence, jobs can be precarious with poverty wages, indigenous peoples can be dispossessed of their ancestral lands and individuals can be subjected to modern day slavery."
Crucially, the benchmark makes corporate human rights performance easier to see and simpler to understand for audiences both within and outside companies.
It works by providing a comparative snapshot year-on-year of the largest companies on the planet, looking at the policies, processes, and practices they have in place to systematise their human rights approach and how they respond to serious allegations.
The goal is to ensure that investors are better equipped to direct their investments to responsible companies performing in line with international standards.
It should equip civil society organisations, trade unions and customers with the information they need to demand more from companies.
And it should guide policy makers in focusing their efforts on industries and companies that have serious and significant negative impacts on societies and the environment.
The best thing about the Benchmark?
All this information is publicly available and free to access. It also has major backers including Aviva Investors, Nordea, and the Dutch, British and Swiss Governments.
So, what did we learn? Unfortunately, the results aren’t pretty:
- 40% of the world’s largest companies failed to show any evidence of how they identify and address human rights issues, on paper or in practice.
- Virtually no companies demonstrate genuine commitments to ensuring living wages are paid to workers in their own operations and supply chains.
- 80% of companies scored zero points in relation to tracking the effectiveness of their own actions relating to sustainability and human rights; and
- Where abuses have occurred, only 3% of cases of remedy being provided were shown to be satisfactory for the victims.
It’s also important to note that this not just about corporate practice.
As the United Nations recently reported, a lack of government leadership in addressing governance gaps remains perhaps the biggest challenge. While some home governments have introduced due diligence requirements or disclosure legislation, efforts remain patchy and uncoordinated.
Where there is room for optimism
The results should be a real wake up call for us all. But, whilst the overall picture is deeply disturbing, there is room for optimism.
For one thing, the average score across all companies rose in 2018, from 18% to 27%.
Companies are (slowly) getting better at disclosing policies, processes and practices.
What’s more, ETI members are placed at the top end of the Benchmark, demonstrating the value of collaborative human rights due diligence.
Effective due diligence is starting
In spite of slow progress overall, we know that effective due diligence can be done. And good practice examples are building up, which can provide a starting point for a wider group of companies to engage.
Aviva, APG and Nordea, which manage more than $1 trillion of assets between them, have also told the CHRB that the Benchmark will be a factor in future investment decisions.
This should drive disclosure of information, increased transparency and accountability in terms of corporate practice, and ultimately better performance.
The benchmark is helping introduce a positive competitive environment for companies to race to the top of the rankings.
So, take a look. And demand the companies you work for, work with or shop from, do more to protect people and the planet - rather than exploiting workers and the environment for short term profit.