Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by GoodCorporation

  GoodCorporation welcomes the enquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights into the way in which businesses can affect human rights both positively and negatively. As auditors of responsible business practice, we have a clear insight into the management practices that should be implemented by business in order to guarantee that their corporate behaviour contributes to the protection and preservation of human rights.


  While Governments undoubtedly have the primary responsibility for ensuring the basic human rights of citizens, it is clear that business increasingly has a role to play. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, some of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses have been corporations.

  There have been numerous voluntary initiatives to establish guidelines for the human rights responsibilities of companies. However, while co-operative standard-setting is important, it has shortcomings, most notably the tendency towards "lowest common denominator" results which concentrate on what is acceptable, rather than what is actually required to ensure the delivery of basic human rights. Voluntary initiatives often leave out small companies, companies from developing countries, state-owned companies and companies with poor human rights records hoping to avoid scrutiny.

  Both Amnesty International and the United Nations are calling for binding legal standards for corporate accountability for human rights. With prosecutions hitting the headlines, such as the recent trial in New York of Royal Dutch Shell, business itself cannot afford the reputational damage that results from any complicity in human rights abuses in the communities where they are located. More importantly, GoodCorporation believes that there is a growing imperative for corporations to behave responsibly. This is allied to the recognition that a good human rights record can support improved business performance, which, in turn, will contribute to the sustainable economic growth that is needed to bring the global economy out of the current crisis.


  GoodCorporation conducts independent and confidential assessments of an organisations management practices and business relationships. Since its launch in 2001, it has completed over 250 audits in more than 40 countries working across a variety of industries including oil and gas, construction, pharmaceuticals, media and telecommunications. Its clients include 11 FTSE 100 and four CAC40 organisations including GDF-SUEZ, Total SA, British Land, BG plc, DHL, Shire plc, FTSE, Telefónica and Xstrata.

  Organisations are assessed against the GoodCorporation Standard that was developed in conjunction with the Institute of Business Ethics, or against the companies own code of conduct or business principles. The GoodCorporation Standard is based on a core set of principles that define a framework for responsible management in any type of organisation. The Standard respects human rights as defined by the United Nations Global Compact and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under each principle, the Standard sets out management practices that can be assessed to determine how well the organisation works in reality. The assessment obtains feedback from employers, customers, suppliers, regulators and shareholders. It also examines a company's commitment to the wider community and the environment.


  From these assessments, GoodCorporation can identify the key areas of corporate responsibility for ensuring basic human rights. We would argue that companies that abide by the principles outlined below, taken from the GoodCorporation Standard, would be adhering to appropriate due diligence processes which would enable them to demonstrate to themselves and their stakeholders that they respect human rights.


  The GoodCorporation Standard outlines fundamental principles which, when implemented, ensure that an organisation is protecting and preserving the basic human right of its employees.

Best Practice

  Rigorous organisations will provide clear and fair terms of employment underpinned by a written policy (EMP1). Freedom of association and organisation of employees is also respected and guaranteed (EMP5)

  The organisation will also undertake to provide clean, healthy and safe working conditions (EMP8). A fair remuneration policy will be implemented wherever it operates which takes into account the local cost of living and market rates (EMP11). There will be no discrimination on the grounds of disability, colour, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, political or other opinion. It will encourage diversity and undertake to recruit, promote and reward employees on the basis of merit alone (EMP12). Sexual, physical or mental harassment or bullying of employees will not be tolerated (EMP15). There should also be clear policies and processes to ensure that only voluntary and appropriately aged employees are employed (EMP16/17). Where employees are working in parts of the world governed by an unstable regime, there are a number of additional human rights requirements such as the sensible management of security personnel and the establishment of clear rules of interaction with local police and security forces.


  It is also imperative that businesses manage their relationships with their customers appropriately, with clear policies and procedures openly in place to guarantee that their human rights are also preserved.

Best Practice

  Organisations which implement best practice will be honest and fair in their dealings with customers, respecting clearly outlined terms of business (CUS1). In addition an organisation will also take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the products and services it provides (CUS11). It will also have a rigorous process in place to ensure that no forms of bribery or corruption of customers is permissible (CUS12).


  A failure to manage the supply chain has led to alleged breaches of human rights, particularly as regards to the treatment of factory workers in developing countries or the treatment of migrant labour within developed countries.

Best Practice

  To demonstrate integrity in its relationships with suppliers an organisation must have a clear and transparent process for the selection of suppliers and contractors (SUP1). It must implement a clear process to ensure that no form of bribery and corruption of suppliers or contractors takes place (SUP8). There must also be a clearly understood process in place which informs suppliers and contractors about the organisation's responsible business practices and encourages them to abide by these principles. The organisation must be able to manage the employment, environmental and ethical risks in its supply chain (SUP11). It should also ensure that contractors working on its behalf have responsible health and safety practices (SUP12).


  Corporations have been rightly criticized for damaging communities, charged with a variety of offences ranging from dumping toxic waste to destroying rainforests or housing. The GoodCorporation Standard states that an organisation should "contribute to making the communities in which it operates better places in which to live and do business."

Best Practice

  A company adhering to best practice will ensure that its plans and activities take into account the impact on the communities in which it does business (COM1).

  There should be a process in place to ensure that there are no forms of bribery or corruption in relation to public officials and public bodies (COM5). There must also be a process to ensure that risks to public safety resulting from the organisation's products and operations are minimized. This should include engaging in meaningful dialogue with the community, particularly where there may be concerns about its products, services or operations (COM6)


  GoodCorporation supports the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its investigation into the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights. It is time for both corporations and Governments to take human rights in all areas of business.

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