Geneva, 28 November: As governments, business and civil society representatives gather in Geneva this week for the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, the spotlight is on corporate human rights performance. 2018 marks seven years since the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the first global standard on the respective roles of businesses and governments in ensuring that companies respect human rights in their own operations and through their business relationships.

In a new issue brief, launched today, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) sets out to highlight some of the key developments in the business and human rights landscape, explore progress made by business towards implementing the tenets of the UNGPs, and identify the enduring challenges.

Putting people first – progress & priorities in corporate respect for human rights starts by presenting the key developments since the launch of the UNGPs in 2011, drawing on information gathered in WBCSD’s Human Rights Gateway. The good news, according to Kitrhona Cerri, Director of Social Impact at WBCSD, is that “alongside the forces increasing the pressure on companies to respect human right – regulation, investor expectations, reputation and market forces – there is now an immense body of guidance, tools, and collaborative initiatives that substantially lower the barriers to business action.”

The second part of the brief provides insights into progress made by WBCSD member companies, building on an analysis of WBCSD members‘ human rights reporting practices, a survey on integration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a review of external benchmarks.

“We see a good number of our member companies performing well and proving that rapid improvement is possible.” says Cerri. “ This provides us with a wealth of experience that can be leveraged to engage and assist the rising number of companies working towards ensuring corporate respect for human rights.”

 The brief ends with an outlook to the road ahead and emphasizes four priorities for business:

  • Implement the UNGPs into business practice – embedding effective policies, training, due diligence, grievance mechanisms and remediation will set companies in good stead for any future benchmarking and regulatory developments.
  • Improve transparency – as human rights awareness increases among stakeholders, businesses will be expected to disclose not only their position and actions on human rights, but the effectiveness of their responses.
  • Elevate human rights – companies should ensure that their human rights strategy is reflected in their materiality analysis, corporate strategies, and SDG strategies.
  • Expand engagement - the actions above will not be possible without leadership at CEO and Board levels, as well as extensive collaboration to effectively tackle complex human rights issues that often extend beyond the boundaries of a single organization.

Against this backdrop, WBCSD will continue to advocate for and support the work of its membership in scaling up action on the UNGPs and advancing respect for human rights with a view towards enhancing companies‘ contributions to the SDGs by putting people first.