4 questions to guide human rights reporting

This article was first published by BSR, a business sustainability consultancy. It is reprinted here with permission.

In the past few years -- in part due to the launch of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights -- many companies have begun to demonstrate leadership in addressing human rights across their operations and in using their influence to promote human rights more broadly.    

Recognizing that reporting helps companies identify and understand risks, improve management, and build trust with stakeholders, companies have also made great strides in how they cover human rights in their corporate social responsibility reports. This trend complements a concurrent rise in demand for corporate human rights reporting: Reporting on human rights performance is part of the current Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting guidelines, and reporting on commitments, activities, and outcomes related to human rights is a requirement of the United Nations Global Compact Communication on Progress. Furthermore, investors are increasingly asking companies to disclose human rights risks.  

Despite the growing awareness of the need for reporting on human rights issues, there is limited guidance on how to do this well. And since the topic is complex -- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes 30 articles -- companies are struggling with how to incorporate human rights into their current approach to sustainability reporting.

As companies further integrate human rights into their sustainability reports, they should continue to look to standards such as the GRI, but the key source of guidance should be the UN Guiding Principles themselves and their focus on company due diligence.

At BSR, we believe companies can do this by focusing on four key questions:

  1. What is the company’s human rights policy and approach to accountability?
  2. How does the company assess actual and potential human rights impacts, both positive and negative?
  3. What has the company found as a result of those assessments?
  4. What is the company doing about those findings?

What follows is a closer look at each of these four questions and some examples of how different companies are responding.

Next page: Some answers to the policy and accountability question