5 tips for corporations on human rights reporting

[Editor's note: This article was authored by BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability.]

A year after the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed new Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, many companies are beginning to incorporate the guiding principles into their human rights strategy. The guiding principles established a framework for business and human rights that established the government duty to protect human rights and the business responsibility to respect human rights. Even as companies have implemented the guidelines, many have been left wondering how best to report on their activities.

Over the last few months, I’ve reviewed a number of reports to better understand current expectations for human rights reporting and what is considered leadership.  I’ve found that human rights reporting has too long focused on specific challenges, such as labor rights in the supply chain, without reporting on the broader human rights context. This trend is beginning to change, with leaders presenting nuanced views of their human rights challenges and centering them within the context of their wider business.

I have five recommendations for human rights reporting.

  1. Be explicit about your human rights strategy. Use your report as an opportunity to tie your human rights work together. Be explicit about key human rights risks and opportunities, vision and goals, and how the strategy has been implemented at the operational or local level.  Leadership example: HP’s focus on reporting its due diligence efforts helps readers understand key risks for the company while also detailing the company’s commitment to mitigate these risks.
  2. Link human rights opportunities to your company’s business. The greatest opportunities for sustained human rights impact are those that capitalize on the company’s core competency. Where your company is advancing human rights by leveraging core competencies, be explicit about the link to the business. Leadership example: GSK does a good job of linking their focus on health to its ability to have positive human rights impacts.
  3. Include stakeholder views. Including content from stakeholders can help launch more in-depth discussions about how the company can address key challenges. Engage key NGO partners, human rights experts, workers, and community members to provide their perspectives on your activities and the impact they have had. Leadership example: The “Voices” section in Ford’s Sustainability report includes independent perspectives from human rights experts on Ford’s human rights performance.
  4. Recognize challenges. Human rights experts recognize that nobody’s perfect. Successful reports promote open discussion about the human rights complexities and challenges facing business in order to foster shared solutions among key stakeholders. Leadership example: GE’s reporting on product misuse in India provides a best practice example of how companies can effectively report on their challenges in a transparent way.
  5. Balance qualitative and quantitative reporting. Measuring impact is important, but often a challenge. To provide a nuanced understanding of your company’s impact, provide both quantitative metrics and qualitative reporting, such as case studies and narratives on specific challenges. Leadership examples: Google’s Transparency Report provides data on its requests for content removal and user data which present a key human rights challenge for the company, while H&M’s Case Studies allow for in-depth discussion of the human rights challenges facing the company.