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3 Tips to Achieve Real Impact with your Human Rights Initiative

By Luna Atamian, Senior Account Executive, Corporate & Brand Citizenship, North America, MSLGROUP

The belief that human rights are relevant to the economic, social and environmental aspects of corporate activity hasn’t always been very popular, which can be surprising given that human rights common norms have existed for 67 years. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHD) adopted by the U.N General Assembly in 1948 does not call out businesses’ responsibility specifically, but applies to all parties including corporations.

It only takes a quick glance at recent companies’ CSR reports to understand the increased responsibility and opportunity for businesses to make real societal change. Yet, despite corporations’ encouraging efforts, understanding what it really means in practice for a company to respect human rights is still a challenge that companies face. Here are three tips to change that.

Collaborate closely with human rights experts to better understand human rights risks

A key step towards ensuring good human rights performance by companies is the practice of human rights due diligence: the analysis of business activities and the risks those activities pose to affected communities. This analysis is complex and requires technical human rights expertise and training which most companies lack nowadays. That’s why businesses need to increase collaboration with human rights experts.

Indeed companies often ignore the changeable human rights risk environment. Human rights risks are not only various but also constantly changing. Using experts’ counseling, businesses need to make a greater effort to continually map the changeable long-term and short-term risks as well as direct and indirect risks associated with their activities.

For instance, analyzing direct short term results such as local job creation can overlook human rights violations embedded more deeply in a community, such as discriminatory hiring practices based on gender or ethnicity.

Collaborating with human rights experts can help companies face these challenges through careful impact assessments, training, monitoring and reporting mechanisms, providing actionable tools to positively impact local communities in holistic and meaningful ways.

Luna Atamian - Human RightsRecognize that human rights issues are often inter-linked and create wholesome programs

Businesses often concentrate on the fulfillment of one particular human right related to their specific operations without taking into consideration that human rights are indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated.

To be sure, most businesses are organically associated with certain rights. For instance, it makes sense for a pharmaceutical company to focus on the fulfillment of the right to health in its communities. Yet, the fulfillment of the right to health may depend, in certain circumstances, on the fulfillment of the right to education or to information. The realization of one human right most often depends on the realization of other rights. By concentrating on the enjoyment of one specific human right, it is likely that other fundamental rights might be overlooked, resulting in more human rights infringements than intended.

Implement a formal company policy statement and deliver on it to boost business performance

Conclusively, merely expressing support for the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles does not suffice anymore. Millennials expect more from corporations. They are interested in knowing which company has taken the step of explicitly referring to human rights in their formal company policy and adopted it.

For instance, Johnson Controls supports human rights norms such as the Ten Principles, the U.N. Framework on Business and Human Rights and the Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the U.N.’s ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework. Yet, the company has gone a step further – it sets commitments and expectations for itself as well as accountability and reporting mechanisms.

It also incorporated such norms in supplier contracts in the fields of labor, health, safety and environment. As a result, the company saw an improvement in its long-term business performance, reputation, productivity and employee retention.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s sustainability report A Chance for Change: The Tipping Point for Sustainable Business.

Luna Atamian - MSLGROUP NALuna is passionate about social change, and a firm believer in companies’ responsibility and opportunity to make a difference. Prior to MSLGROUP, Luna served as the Eastern Chapter Director at where she helped build national advocacy campaigns to mobilize tech leaders around immigration issues. Her campaign Immigrant Heritage Month received an official recognition from the White House as well as President Obama. Connect with her on Twitter @LunaAtamian.