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Making human rights a priority

Making human rights a priority

Support for human rights is undeniably the right thing to do. It’s also a complex business issue that involves almost every aspect of a company’s operations, its contractors, its suppliers or business partners and its relationships with employees, the surrounding community and government. A human rights policy that is well-designed and diligently implemented can help a company ‘do the right thing’ while still managing business risk and preserving its social license-to-operate.

Richard Boele

Global Leader, Business & Human Rights Services

KPMG Australia


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Applying a human rights lens

In the business world, we can think of ‘human rights’ as a kind of holistic lens showing the impacts that companies have on people.

Positive impacts can include improved worker health and safety, equality in the workplace, and innovation to support environmental protection and product safety. Negative impacts can involve damage to people’s health through pollution, environmental accidents and health and safety failures, underpayment of workers, creating or failing to address unsafe or unhealthy working conditions; or discrimination against employees.

As a result of the growing attention on human rights issues in the media, companies have felt increased pressure to identify and address risks involving human rights both within and outside their organization. Managing these risks with a human rights lens can help identify issues, build trust, enhance a company’s social license-to-operate, and achieve better outcomes for both the company and society.

Making a positive business case

Despite the risks outlined above, we should keep in mind that human rights performance is not just a matter of prohibitions or a problem that needs to be fixed. In fact, strong support for human rights can serve as part of a company’s overall strategy for sustainability, providing a valuable opportunity to gain competitive advantage, strengthen business relationships and support steady growth.

Actions to consider

There is no standard approach in developing human rights governance. Each company is influenced by a multitude of factors such as the operational and management structure of the company; the business and national culture of the country where the company is headquartered; and the length of time that the company has been working on human rights.

However, senior leaders in chemical companies can consider taking the following actions in alignment with their human rights policy:

  • Set the tone at the top by appointing a specific board member with responsibility for human rights.
  • Make sure that the CEO and board members are clear in their commitment to respect human rights.
  • Build human rights actions into annual business unit plans and ensure that accountability resides with heads of business units.
  • Integrate human rights risks into the corporation’s risk management process.
  • Establish a clear line of reporting to the board on the most severe human rights risks and impacts so issues can be rapidly addressed at the appropriate level.

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