where checking accounts rebuild communities
Back to homepageInstitutional ReportsSRI Financial Professionals DirectoryToolsNewsSRI Performance and TrendsAbout Us   

December 24, 2014
Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Gains Government Support
    by Robert Kropp

The benchmark, which will rank 500 major corporations in four industry sectors on their human rights performance, wins financial support from the UK government. Second of a two-part series.

I described an example of the responsibilities of corporations in ensuring human rights in their supply chains in my previous article, where I covered a r eport analyzing the impact of extreme poverty on the persistence of child labor in West Africa's cocoa industry.

According to Professor John Ruggie, the author of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Principles—which were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011—“are becoming embedded in the regulatory ecosystem for business and human rights...their place in this ecosystem has begun to expand from the international to the national and local spheres.”

However, “A human rights treaty focused exclusively on transnational corporations is highly problematic,” Ruggie continued. Referring to the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, which killed 1,200 garment workers, he pointed out, “victims don’t care whether they are abused by transnational or local firms.”

Led by Aviva Investors and including the sustainable investment research firm EIRIS, a coalition has formed to promote a business and human rights benchmarking project. Launched earlier this month, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) will research and rank 500 of the world's largest firms from the Agriculture, ICT, Apparel, and Extractives industry sectors. The selection of the four industry sectors acknowledges the vulnerability of workers and communities in emerging markets.

The goals of the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark include:
1. make corporate performance on human rights easier to see and simpler to understand;
2. rank and reward companies doing well while highlighting poor performance of others;
3. enable investors, society and regulators to challenge companies where performance lags behind that of their peers; and
4. introduce a positive competitive environment within which companies can operate.

“It took more than 60 years from the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were developed,” Steve Waygood of Aviva said. “We believe that within six years of their approval, we can help to make these Guiding Principles routine corporate practice through the development and use of the Benchmark.”

The Benchmark project received significant support last week, when UK Business Minister Jo Swinson pledged the support of the UK government, support that includes over $124,000 in start-up funding. “We want to create a ‘race to the top’ where companies that are taking effective action get recognition and those that are not can be held to account,” Swinson said. “This benchmarking project...will make it easy for people to understand corporate human rights performance, see how companies fare in the rankings and enable investors and regulators to challenge those whose performance is behind those of others.”

The first companies are expected to be ranked by the Benchmark in 2016.

As Swinson noted, the reputations of companies are increasingly at risk as their human rights performance is scrutinized, and when fully implemented the Benchmark should indeed prod corporations to outperform their peers in one of the highest profile sustainability factors. But as Professor Ruggie himself pointed out, “I see no intrinsic contradiction between implementing the Guiding Principles, on the one hand, and further international legalization, on the other. Therefore, I urge in the strongest possible terms that as the treaty negotiations unfold, we resist any attempt to polarize the debate as one between the Guiding Principles and a treaty.”

The treatment of the world's most vulnerable populations by corporations is far too important an issue to be left solely to the corporations themselves. Yes, the increased transparency that will result with the implementation of the Benchmark is of critical importance. But the world's most vulnerable populations require enforceable legal protections as well.


| Reports | SRI Financial Professionals Directory | Tools | News | SRI Performance and Trends | About Us | Contact
© SRI World Group, Inc. - All rights reserved
Terms of use - Privacy Policy - OneReportTM Network