How Reporting Helps Businesses Uphold Human Rights

Dec 15, 2017 10:00 AM ET

After 70 years of international effort to uphold human rights, we still face challenges. Sustainability reporting can help companies identify, remedy and prevent human rights abuses throughout the value chain.

Human Rights Day, 10 December 2017, marked the start of a year-long campaign to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The declaration written down almost 70 years ago is just as relevant today, and organizations around the world are still working to uphold it – including through the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which were endorsed in 2011. The 31 Principles are designed to implement the UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework on the issue of human rights and business.

At GRI, we believe that corporate reporting can play a crucial role in supporting the Guiding Principles. The third pillar – access to remedy if human rights are not respected – was the theme of the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, which took place in Geneva on 27-29 November. The aim of the Forum was to bring key stakeholders together to drive progress on moving the Guiding Principles to practice, and the theme, “Realizing Access to Effective Remedy,” enabled crucial discussions on how to ensure that victims of adverse business-related human rights have access to remedies.

The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards), the first and most widely-used global standards for sustainability reporting, have a modular structure, and human rights disclosures feature in the Social Standards. The Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) has already started the process to review GRI human rights-related Standards to further align them with key authoritative intergovernmental instruments, including the UNGPs.

When companies use the GRI Standards for their sustainability reporting, they assess their positive and negative impacts on economic, environmental and social issues, including human rights, and are transparent about the results. They can use the human rights disclosures – including non-discrimination, freedom of association and collective bargaining, child labor, forced or compulsory labor, rights of indigenous peoples, and human rights assessments – as well as management disclosures related to grievance mechanisms to report their impacts.

This exercise can help companies identify human rights abuses in their value chains and take action to remedy them. Transparency makes this information available, empowering NGOs and other stakeholders to hold companies accountable and provide access to remedy.

"We strongly believe that sustainability reporting can help companies identify their potential human rights impacts and remedies,” commented GRI Chief Executive Tim Mohin. 

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