- The need to change corporate culture: A 'human rights first' culture must be fully integrated into corporate culture, not just seen as a reporting or due diligence requirement that sits in procurement or legal departments. This requires a shift away from the traditional approach to looking at business risk to one that also puts emphasis on the negative impacts on the individuals in the supply chain.
- Human rights risks are tangible business risks: Human rights violations are tangible business risks, since they can lead to legal sanctions, business interruptions or even threaten the long-term sustainability of the business.
- Leadership buy in: Panellists emphasised that senior level buy in, using tangible business drivers, is key so they can take overall responsibility and ensure training and awareness is dissipated. If struggling to engage boards, showing company leaders plausible real risks and threats to human rights will likely turn heads.
- Corporate frameworks: Human rights can be embedded by following processes for other areas that need frameworks or due diligence (for example on-boarding or finance). All these frameworks are around minimisations, measurements and reporting human rights can be assessed that way.
- Training across the organisation: As well as discussing how to generate senior buy-in, middle management and executive training is important too. Some businesses have a programme of education and awareness, starting with procurement teams. The Modern Slavery Act has created an impetus and saw businesses use training exercises that tailored human rights to specific job functions.
- Education of staff: Volunteering and training is an excellent way to get staff to understand the human side of what can be seen as a distant problem. Getting people out their comfort zones builds resolve to try and address human rights and sustainability issues in supply chains and vulnerable regions. Following the training, another way to operationalise human rights is empowering staff to come up with answers to supply chain or human rights issue by utilising their day-job expertise.
- Securing time and resources: Education, a good corporate culture and understanding of the risks means companies will invest in human rights, especially if there is real or perceived pressure from stakeholders such as investors.
- Partnerships with civil society: Having policies, procedures and due diligence is good, but companies need to partner with NGOs and organisations in the operating regions to achieve those policies and generate impact.
- Working as a sector: Co-operation with competitors who share the same supply chains and risk profiles can magnify impact and leverage. No-one should compete on sustainability, adherence to the SDGs or human rights. This includes developing collective reporting standards, responses to bad practice and impact measurement.
- Disclosure and supplier training: Companies are often averse to disclosing human rights abuses that exist, but disclosure is important to build trust in your reporting especially if accompanied by steps taken to remedy the abuses found. Panellists advocated against disengaging the supplier as it is better to work with organisations in the supply trains than create a risk of workers being exploited elsewhere.
Tools and technology
- Technology in due diligence: Better deployment of tech and ICT tools in auditing and due diligence can provide a dataset that is perhaps more objective than a purely people led auditing process and helps spot patterns others may miss.
- Technology can make things easier: Existing and emerging technologies can improve supply chain transparency and allow more in-depth analysis and risks, so should play a major role in the actual operationalisation of human rights, particularly digital identity and blockchain solutions. However, firms should be ready to act on the disclosures this will reveal and have processes to act on the risks and instances the technology finds.
- Blockchain could be transformational: Distributed Ledger Technology is an incredible opportunity to generate data on every incident and actor in a supply chain and if integrated with other datasets.
View from a non tech sector company & how to respond when abuses are found: Carly Bilsbrough, Shop Direct
This presentation looked at how human rights risks are managed in a retail and non-tech manufacturing context.
- Retail has changed its approach to human rights and the sector needs to demonstrate it is working internally and with suppliers.
- Shop Direct use Shift’s guidance and Ethical Trading Institute base code as a starting point for tier one suppliers. Specific red-flags for abuse is migrant labour and fully understanding the type of abuses found.
- Typical sorts of abuses include passport withholding, payslips not in the correct language, fines and recruitment fees, poor health and safety plus accommodation.
- Disclosing when abuses are found is scary but recommended. If others report and you don’t you risk being perceived as not active on the issue. Also It should be accompanied by and the steps taken to tackle the abuses found. This means not just monitoring, but meaningful action.
- Supply chain engagement is key to creating partnerships. This means audits accompanied by support, training and upskilling staff and management in-region.
- Using local staff to manage relationships and uphold standards is key, not least because it can be hard to translate western standards into local customs.
- Important to work with other business that share the same supply chain risks.
Tools, guides and benchmarks
This panel examined what support and help there is for businesses including guidance documents, software tools and benchmarking.
- techUK human rights policy template: techUK has launched a new guide for firms seeking to develop a human rights policy. This can be used by any organisation but aimed at smaller businesses who may not have the resources or internal expertise to develop their own. Will be the first of a series of guides from techUK on helping firms in their sustainability.
- Cyber risks self-assessment guidance: techUK and DIT have published refreshed guidance on how cyber security firms can self-assess potential human rights risks relating to their export destination and end use. There is a grey area of cyber-technologies not covered by export control laws such as the Dual Use Regulation and Wassenaar but could still be misused. Again, this guidance is targeted at SMEs.
- Convergence of tech tools: Convergence of AI, Blockchain and IoT along with a core digital backbone are key enablers for achieving an autonomous supply chain and could provide the necessary due diligence to run ethical business operations.
- SME engagement: Getting SMEs to engage with associations and cross-industry initiatives is difficult, which is why guidance documents are important. SME engagement has also been low in initiatives. The European Partnership for Responsible Minerals recognises this and is developing a tool that SMEs can use to understand and act on their supply chains risks.
- Importance of industry-wide initiatives: Companies of all sizes were urged to look at initiatives such as the Responsible Business Alliance and the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals. These all have resources and guides for business, as do organisations such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, Ardea, BHRC and KnowTheChain.
- Implementation: Tools and software for human rights monitoring and due diligence should be designed at the start of any new market entry programme. Having a set purpose and goals helps and the tools can be implemented to meet the purpose, other than being an afterthought.
- Role of the CHRB benchmark: The CHRB methodology is grounded in the UN Guiding Principles. Members expressed some concerns that CHRB assessment is based on publicly available documentation and not all the possible sources on information that is not in the public realm.
- Benchmarking drives action: Comparing companies against each other via a competitive scorecard has driven action from business leadership and investors, and indeed can be used to help identify gaps in company's due diligence.
- ICT in the CHRB benchmark: The benchmark is being extended into ICT and the methodology and scores are published online (linked to in Appendix 1). CHRB held a consultation on how to score manufacturers that techUK contributed to.
- Further techUK activity: techUK was challenged on what more support can be done for business and human rights, particularly for SMEs. techUK is planning to support peer-review for Modern Slavery Statements and could do sessions on policies and guidance. SMEs interested were encouraged to participate in the Sustainable Supply Chain group and to engage in other techUK groups and events covering other human rights issues (data ethics, AI ethics, privacy etc).
Risks businesses overlook: Bill Skeates, Supply Chain Manager, Sky
- Getting human rights right is an important part of your reputation, public perception and legal compliance.
- This means thinking downstream, where products go at the end of life as well as upstream (where products are made).
- Typical risks in the electronics manufacturing sector include child labour, excessive hours, fines and subtraction of wages. Migrant and agency work is where abuses are most likely to be found.
- Businesses need to consider all their operations and support services, not just those related to product manufacturing. This includes logistics, packaging, cleaning, facilities management, catering and those producing promotional materials.
- Raw materials are furthest away from the manufacturer, therefore working through the RBA or other initiatives is the best way to minimise raw material human rights.