Caroline Rees of Shift gives the first findings from Valuing Respect, a collaborative platform to come up with better ways to evaluate corporates’ efforts to safeguard human rights in their supply chains
Imagine for a second that you’ve just been hired as the new head of sustainability for a large, transnational company. You arrive at your desk the first morning, and find a long list of policies and programmes that the company has put in place to ensure respect for human rights across its supply chain. You are given one simple instruction: decide which ones are working and which are not. Where do you start?
Let’s take a different scenario. This time, you are a financial adviser in a development institution, or perhaps a bank with an impact-investing portfolio. You have a list of 100 companies that – on paper – are committed to respecting human rights, but you want to tell which ones are truly making a difference in people’s lives. What indicators would you use?
One last case: you work for an international human rights organization that is planning a report on child labour in the garment industry. You’ve found 25 companies that have put in place processes to eradicate child labour. However, you don’t want to praise any companies in your report without making sure that the processes are actually effective. How can you spot the ones that don’t relate to actual practice?
Companies have made significant progress in measuring their impact on the planet but failed when it comes to harm to people
The truth is in all three circumstances you’d most likely be making a blind decision based, at best, on superficial data that measures activities rather than results.
Over the past few years, corporate respect for human rights has become an increasingly hot topic. More and more, companies of all sizes and across all regions are acknowledging that they have a responsibility to be active in seeking to prevent and address harm to people who may be affected by their business. Hundreds, if not thousands, of companies have launched programmes, put in place policies and invested millions of dollars to help ensure respect for people’s dignity. Yet most can’t tell whether their efforts are actually working.
Valuing corporate respect for human rights is particularly tricky. Unlike other business areas, such as sales, customer service or finance, respect for people’s dignity may seem intrinsically subjective. In the environmental field, companies have made significant progress in measuring their impact on the planet but they’ve consistently failed to do the same when it comes to harm to people.
At Shift, we believe that doesn’t have to be the case. And we are embarking on a journey to find better solutions to this shared problem.
This year we launched Valuing Respect, a global collaborative platform to research and co-create better ways of evaluating business respect for human rights. Over the next three years, we aim to develop tools and insights that can help both companies and their stakeholders focus their resources on actions that effectively improve outcomes for people.
To do so, we’ve joined forces with three regional partners (The Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, the ASEAN CSR Network and the Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business), in a truly global and cross-disciplinary effort.
Our goal is to identify promising paths towards more meaningful indicators, good practices, and methodologies to value respect
Our goal is to bring everyone to the table: investors, civil society, business leaders, regulators, academics, and others. Together, we are identifying promising paths towards more meaningful indicators, good practices, models and methodologies to value respect.
We’ve divided our research agenda into three areas:
• The discipline and art of evaluation: building a picture of how evaluation is conducted across different fields, such as international development and behavioural science.
• The state of practice: identifying existing patterns of what metrics and indicators are being used, as well as the challenges and gaps that those entail.
• Opportunities for learning and innovation: finding promising pilots, testing prototype tools and delivering new insights and products.
You can learn more about our detailed research agenda here.
Since we launched Valuing Respect in February, we’ve been busy conducting research and facilitating consultations. We’ve already benefited from rich discussions with expert stakeholders in New York (May), London (July) and most recently, in Singapore in August.
While it is still too early to draw any conclusions, here are a few highlights of what we’ve found:
The frustration with the kinds of indicators and metrics that currently dominate the field (for example, about policies, activities, and supply chain audit data) is widely shared across stakeholder groups.
One area where innovation is needed is in creating new types of data, for example on companies’ actual behaviours and practices
There is excitement at the prospect of finding better approaches, but agreement that the project should not be about producing a single “answer”. Rather, we should keep our eye on the goal of producing various outputs that, between them, can help all organizations improve how they measure progress and success.
There is enthusiasm for methodologies that can offer a coherent system of indicators that can move beyond today’s “counting without context”. Two such examples are the causal pathway approach to evaluation, and the use of leading and lagging indicators in the health and safety field.
Both help us to think more carefully about what kinds of metric or data add what value in understanding what is working. There are great ideas around for how to strengthen and apply these models in the business and human rights context, and we will draw from these in our work.
There is a recognition that part of the challenge is with the underlying information that indicators rely upon. So one area where innovation is needed is in creating new types of data, for example on companies’ actual behaviours and practices – desirable or undesirable – and about the perceptions of stakeholders, above all those affected by business activities.
Investors are particularly interested in finding better ways to evaluate corporate culture and governance in relation to human rights risk. What are the key things to look for when they engage with a company?
There is interest across all stakeholder groups, in gaining more insight into the perspectives of affected workers and communities
And there is interest across all stakeholder groups, from civil society to business, in gaining more insight into the perspectives of affected workers and communities. What approaches work best to gain their authentic viewpoints on company behaviour; how are technologies helping companies access those views, what are their strengths and pitfalls; and how can this critical set of information best feed into an evaluation model? These are questions that will be high on our agenda for the months ahead.
At Shift, we love to go after challenges that may seem daunting or hard to solve, and Valuing Respect is no different. We know that we have an exciting road ahead, and we are certain that through this joint effort, we’ll soon have more and better ways to value what matters most: respect for people’s dignity. To learn more about Valuing Respect, and how you can become part, please visit www.valuingrespect.org
Caroline Rees is the president and co-founder of Shift, the leading centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Learn more about Shift at www.shiftproject.org