Canon, Carlsberg, Ralph Lauren and Starbucks are among 95 companies that are being pressed by investors worth $4.5tn to take prompt action to respect the rights of workers and communities, say Camille Le Pors of the World Benchmarking Alliance and Paloma Munoz Quick of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights

By shining a light on how 200 multinational companies perform across 100 indicators, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) has collated large amounts of valuable data on corporate human rights performance. With this data, the CHRB is making it easier for a wide range of audiences, within and outside companies, to see and understand how companies are managing the risks their businesses pose to people. But how do we know that the results are being used to drive change in corporate behaviour?

This year, for the first time, 176 international investors have come together to urge the 95 companies who scored zero on human rights due diligence in last year’s CHRB report to take fast and concrete steps to address their poor performance. Worryingly, some of the world’s biggest companies, including Canon, Carlsberg, Costco Wholesale, Gazprom, Ralph Lauren and Starbucks, aren’t doing enough to demonstrate appropriate human rights due diligence. This is difficult to understand. As well as being something that responsible companies should be doing as a matter of course, mitigating human rights risks makes business sense by reducing exposure to operational delays, reputational harm, financial loss and legal liabilities, all of which are connected to salient human rights impacts.

It is significant when such a diverse coalition of investors come together to express concern over the conduct of major multinational companies. The coalition is coordinated by the Investor Alliance for Human Rights and includes asset managers, public pension funds and faith-based investors from around the world. With combined assets of over $4.5tn under management, their words have clout, and illustrate the ways in which responsible investors are thinking about where they put their money.

We will not hesitate to withdraw our support of these company boards at their AGMs if they do not resolve this critical situation

Anna Pot, head of responsible investment Americas at APG Asset Management, explains that APG uses the CHRB data in its investment analysis and when APG talks to companies about their human rights performance, “it helps us to be explicit about our expectations”. She highlights that “the large support for this statement shows that more and more investors want companies to take their responsibilities seriously when it comes to impacting communities, individuals and the environment.”

The letter demonstrates that weak human rights performance is increasingly a factor for investors deciding how and where to invest. With demands for disclosure on five areas by June 2020 – in time to be included in the next CHRB assessment – investors have been clear that this is an issue to be tackled now.

Institutional investors need information on the human rights risks of investee companies in order to meet their own responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This means investors should be able to demonstrate that their investments don’t pose undue risks to people. This requires that portfolio companies know and show that they respect human rights by carrying out robust human rights due diligence.

Companies are being urged to take prompt action to protect workers and suppliers. (Credit: Carols Ulate/Shutterstock)

Steve Waygood, the chief responsible investment officer at Aviva Investors and chair of the CHRB board, describes the current situation as “highly alarming” and calls for “prompt and concrete action from the laggards”. He adds: “We will not hesitate to withdraw our support of these company boards at their AGMs if they do not resolve this critical situation as a matter of priority.”

We are delighted that this diverse group of international investors has taken action in support of human rights and that this is coming out at a time that the private sector has a key role to play to ensure the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable in their own operations and supply chains.

It is worth noting that this investor effort was spearheaded before the scale and worldwide impact of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, and we recognise that many companies are facing unprecedented difficulties which must not be ignored. At the same time, we believe that robust human rights due diligence is critical, more than ever.

We want to emphasise that respect for human rights underpins the realisation of the Sustainable Developments Goals

Looking beyond the current coronavirus crisis and ahead to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, we want to emphasise that respect for human rights underpins the realisation of the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs).

Of concern, the majority of the 95 companies who scored zero for human rights due diligence have also been identified by the World Benchmarking Alliance as part of the 2,000 global companies that have the most influence over whether the SDGs are met. We hope that each of the 95 companies takes the steps needed to allay the concerns of investors by embedding human rights commitments at the heart of their business.

Camille Le Pors is Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Lead at World Benchmarking Alliance and Paloma Munoz Quick is director at the Investor Alliance for Human Rights.

Main picture credit: Reuters


CHRB  Investor Alliance for Human Rights  APG Asset Management  aviva  SDGs  World Benchmarking Alliance 

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