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BLIHR | Step 4

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STEP 4: Integrate human rights into your internal and external communications 

The act of communicating is in itself an essential part of a human rights approach; balancing freedom of expression with the protection of personal or private information and the participation of stakeholders is essential. Your business’s human rights policy, procedures and performance should be documented and communicated to employees; for instance, through codes of business conduct. They should also be made available through the corporate website (where this is an option), business publications, annual reports, and notice boards – and in local languages, where appropriate. In addition, companies should encourage suppliers to publicise to their employees the obligations they have undertaken to uphold human rights in their business relations. Finally, a large part of effective communication is to keep up-to-date with relevant stories and commentary about your business and industry – many networks and resources are available for this purpose. It is especially important to listen for bad news from within and from outside your business.

Internal communication is critical to developing an effective human rights management system. Consistent and well-presented top-down communication within a business can serve to inform about human rights within the business strategy. Employees should be informed about human rights risks and opportunities that the business faces in its operations. The performance indicators that are used to monitor and measure the efficiency of the human rights management system should also be communicated to all. It is particularly important for businesses to communicate to all employees the principal drivers behind human rights-based initiatives and their relevance to the long-term strategy of the business. The latter can prevent the marginalisation of initiatives and ensure that specialised departments handling human rights issues are fully integrated into the business. An interactive approach to internal communication may generate greater understanding and a flow of innovative ideas and proposals on how to improve established practices and procedures.

 Efficient lines of communication with employees are also needed to ensure effective non-compliance reporting and whistle-blowing. This requires clearly defined policies and procedures on the subject and clear contact points in the organisation. Human rights issues should be communicated using simple and straightforward terminology, translated into relevant languages, and made widely accessible, including to employees with disabilities. It may be useful initially to address human rights issues using business terminology, since human rights may appear overly political or legalistic and may create barriers or misunderstanding. It is key that communication is followed up by encouraging a culture of human rights recognition and respect in the organisation; it may be necessary to develop change management strategies to best facilitate this or to integrate the issue into existing programmes.

A business should ensure that human rights are protected in all of its external communications.  For example, if local communities want to communicate with the business through protest, the business should respect their right to freedom of expression and should not seek to repress demonstrations or ask governments to do so, even if the business does not agree with the message or the style of communication. In gathering and retaining information about employees, customers or others, companies should follow data protection rules and respect the right to privacy. This is especially true where companies hold sensitive health or other private information gathered for the business’s human resources files.

Companies may also be responsible for the actions of their employees while at work, such as the use of the internet or possible e-mail abuse.

 
Resource: Follow the news and be open to bad news:

A strong part of communicating is following the news about your business. Today, the flow of information and opinions makes criticism and comment about your corporation’s brand more likely – negative stories from a community in one part of the world can be reported across the world in national television, newspapers and on websites. At the same time, this can help you to access information and views about your business. For example, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre will send you automatic emails or text messages when a story involving your business hits the news for human rights reasons. Many companies already scan media channels for issues that may cause risks to operations, commercial returns or reputation. Where possible you should seek to expand this scanning to include potential or actual human rights issues within your sphere of influence. 

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