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The Latest Corporate Social Responsibility News - "Companies Need to Adopt a Human Rights Policy"

Submitted by: CSRwire Weekly News Alert

Categories: Human Rights, Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted: Aug 26, 2008 – 11:59 PM EST


Aug. 26 /CSRwire/ - Is 167 a lot or a little? That's the number of companies around the world that have adopted a formal policy statement explicitly referring to human rights, according to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC.) That stat includes over half of the UK's FTSE 100 - but only a sliver of the Fortune 500, and a miniscule percentage of all companies worldwide.

Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and BHRRC Advisory Network Chair, is actively encouraging companies to join the 167. This December marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an "ideal opportunity" to adopt a human rights policy. So says Robinson in a letter to Fortune 500 and other top companies through the Realizing Rights ethical globalization initiative she co-founded in 2002. She also points out that Harvard Professor John Ruggie, UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, opined that "companies need to adopt a human rights policy" in his latest report to the UN.

NGOs have responded to the Ruggie report, Protect, Respect, and Remedy, pinpointing gaps between best practices outlined in the report and the realities of existing corporate policies and practices. For example, the World Resources Institute and others submitted a report documenting how the Equator Principles, based on International Finance Corporate Sustainability Performance Standards, fail to fully satisfy 329 of 335 international human rights performance indicators. "The IFC and Equator banks need to fill the gaps between their policies and internationally recognized human rights standards," said report author Steve Herz in a Corporate Watchdog Radio commentary.

The Ruggie report also underlined the importance of Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs), a process pioneered for BP by Bennett Freeman after serving in the Clinton State Department and before joining Calvert. Unfortunately, precious few HRIAs have been undertaken, and Ruggie encourages more. That is changing as investors and activists promote HRIAs as a proactive way to support human rights. For example, a coalition including Ethical Funds of Canada, Public Service Alliance of Canada Staff Pension Fund and Sweden's pension funds filed a shareholder resolution asking Goldcorp for an independent HRIA to be conducted of its Marlin Mine operations in the western highlands of Guatemala. The shareholders withdrew the resolution when the company agreed to the HRIA, which for example examines the property rights of indigenous peoples.

Bolstering this objective is the recent formal recognition of the Maya and other native cultures by the Guatemalan government in its appointment of an Ambassador of the Council of Indigenous Peoples. Business often intersects with indigenous peoples when seeking a social license to operate in indigenous communities. The re-balancing of power toward indigenous peoples in Guatemala - and beyond - carries implications for companies planning to continue profiting by extracting resources from native lands.

In other words, companies that have not adopted a formal human rights policy addressing such issues do so at their own risk.

This article was written by CSRwire contributor Bill Baue.

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