UN calls to improve human rights in supply chains

Following the publication by the United Nations’ working group on business and human rights of their roadmap for the next decade, Leo Martin spoke to Board Agenda about the significance of these new goals. According to Leo, the most important section is on due diligence which requires companies to stop talking and start checking. This switch in emphasis to proving that you have relationships with suppliers and can demonstrate that they are operating without committing any human rights abuse is significant. It shows that the drive to require businesses to fully understand their human rights risks and put mitigating steps in place is finally gathering momentum. This places understanding human rights risks throughout the supply chain at the forefront.

Calls for mandatory human rights due diligence checks have been getting louder in recent years, with the EU urging member states to enact legislation to this effect. France pre-empted the EU with its Duty of Vigilance law, but other member states are catching up, most recently The Netherlands. Here in the UK a campaign to introduce mandatory due diligence to the Modern Slavery Act, is gaining support, most recently from a business, with 36 companies signing an open letter calling for the Act to be updated.

For business, this means that more and more organisations are starting to create specific roles with responsibility for measuring and managing human rights impacts. To date, relatively few global corporations have a head of human rights, although we are starting to see new roles being created and developments such as the UN roadmap will drive operational change further. For businesses this will mean shifting focus away from simply reporting activities towards demonstrating the activities that are being implemented.

As stated in the working group document, due diligence is at the heart of the project. As highlighted in the Board Agenda article, the UN working group writes, “To realise lasting change and ingrain business respect for human rights as part of company DNA, there is need for a culture change supported by integration of human rights due diligence into governance and organisational frameworks and into the core of the business model.”