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BLIHR | Step 2

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STEP 2: Build relationships across your company and with external groups

Integrating human rights into business management involves increasingly wider groups of people from within and outside your business. We have heard a great deal in the past five years that corporate social responsibility should not be an ‘add on’ activity divorced from the core of the business, and this is critical for effective achievement of human rights management. Therefore, a core part of building your business’s capability and capacity is the forming of relationships which expand recognition of human rights values from those responsible for ethics and compliance, or who defend the business from claims and allegations, to those who monitor compliance with external requirements, to those who run the core business, to those who plan and implement the business’s long- term growth strategies, and to the external stakeholders affected by corporate actions.

Participate in sectoral initiatives

Sector initiatives have for a long time been key components of the Business and Human Rights agenda. These allow industry groups to exchange learning, develop commitments, build tools and engage with stakeholders in an efficient and effective way. A core part of your approach to human rights should be to decide if your business should participate in these processes. You should also review initiatives that address major human rights issues for your business or certain critical commodities that bring with them human rights risks. Some examples of sector initiatives are:
 
  • Ethical Trading Initiative
  • Fair Labour Association
  • Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights
  • Electronics Sector Code of Conduct
  • Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative
  • Global Network Initiative

If participating in sector initiatives is not appropriate or possible for your business, there are other avenues by which to benefit from others in your sector. For example:
 
  • Arrange informal meetings with colleagues in the sector
  • Read reports and conclusions from existing sector activity
  • Attend events dealing with human rights issues particular to your context or sector

Meet civil society groups and individuals who have strong concerns about your business

BLIHR companies have found that engaging with detractors and challengers is an important way of understanding better and developing responses to human rights issues. This can range from engaging ‘critical friends’ like consultancies or being open to dialogue with NGOs, community groups and media organisations that are critical of the business. This can be done informally and in response to issues as they emerge (e.g. labour abuses in your supply chain, instances of discrimination, violent interactions with protesting communities and security forces) or it can be done on a regular basis as part of a governance and accountability process.

Connected to these instances, and in keeping with the wider notions of “sphere of influence”, it is also important to cultivate a stakeholder-orientated approach to all areas of your business. Companies with a commitment to human rights have the ability to engage productively with stakeholders. They recognise that people are ends in themselves with inherent and immutable rights, not means to an end.  They understand the need to assess the impact of their actions on those whom their business affects, and endeavour to minimise harm and do what good they can.  In an ethical culture, internal and external stakeholders support the business’s values. 

Support engagement across functions in your business

The principle of cross-functional engagement can also be applied in the creation of strategies and in setting values. A widespread process of defining values in a participatory fashion, involving employees and other stakeholders — in ways that connect human rights and the business’s core business goals, strategies, and broader ethical values — can reinforce a sense of ownership. This ownership of ethical and human rights responsibilities by the respective leaders of business functions and units, cascading down to the individual employee level within their own spheres of influence, promotes broad awareness and effective actions on human rights issues.  Such ownership helps bridge the divide between rhetoric and action.
 



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