Respect and Promote Human Rights

An equitable agri-food system transformation can only exist if all agricultural workers’ human rights are respected and safeguarded across the value chain. These include addressing issues relating to land tenure, living wage, child and forced labor. Endorsed unanimously by all United Nations member states, the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – the global framework for business due diligence on human rights – mandated that all businesses “protect, respect, and remedy” human rights within their operations and are held responsible for abuses in the broader supply chains in which they operate. WBCSD members can play a leading role in championing and protecting these rights. The Equitable Livelihoods work reinforces at a sector-level WBCSD’s CEO Guide to Human Rights, in which 35 executives of WBCSD member companies committed to raise the bar on human rights performance.

    The challenge

    Agribusinesses have significant land footprints and are major employers worldwide, including in countries with fragile social and political environments and weak jurisdictions. Value chains are often complex and multi-tiered, including different agricultural inputs, farm sizes, and operational schemes which can make addressing human rights issues in value chains challenging. However, this complexity does present a broad range of human rights and sustainability issues in which agribusinesses could have a positive impact. WBCSD’s membership criteria include the requirement for members to publicly commit to respect internationally recognized human rights in line with the UNGPs and disclose annual progress in line with agreed transparency criteria.

    The business case

    Regulation around human rights disclosure is extending beyond the disclosure of steps taken (even if none), to requiring an implementation of due diligence or holding companies legally responsible for not doing so. Benchmarking using publicly available information is becoming increasingly prevalent and gaining greater recognition amongst stakeholders, who are using the data to assess company performance to inform investments, private or public procurement, government development of relevant legislation, shareholder resolutions and consumer campaigns. Leveraging rapid communications technologies, public pressure on, and expectations from, companies and their CEOs are high and only set to increase, making lack or insufficient action a global risk for these companies. Conversely, taking pro-active action and demonstrating progress through credible accountability mechanisms are reducing risks for progressive companies as well as giving them a competitive advantage when it comes to consumer and customers trust and better capital access.

    The solution

    In 2020, WBCSD's Equitable Livelihoods project published an agribusiness toolkit to foster alignment and improve human rights policy and practice. The tool aims to build awareness, understanding and capacity around the human rights agenda. Customizable train-the-trainer packs were also developed for internal engagement. In parallel, effort is focusing on peer learning and joint problem-solving is being amplified through blogs and interviews with partners and members, including examples of private sector best practices and case studies detailing how salient human rights issues are navigated. Trainings for members focus on topics such as migrant labor, child labor, and women’s empowerment.

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