Navigating Human Rights for CEOs + Executives

Howard Dorman, Partner, CPA, WeiserMazars LLP

Navigating Human Rights for CEOs + Executives

How do CEOs and other C-level executives of large international companies view human rights? According to a recent survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and several companies including WeiserMazars LLP, 83% of executives believe that human rights is not only a central theme at the government level, but also a major focus for businesses as well. 44% stated that a CEO is most likely to take the leading role in managing human rights issues and embedding a culture of respect for those rights within an organization.

Key reasons for developing a human-rights-centric business culture include:

  • Ensuring sustainable relationships with local communities (48% of the respondents)
  • Protecting the company reputation (41%)
  • Meeting employee expectations of good corporate citizenship (41%)

There is a long road ahead. Only 11% of polled companies publish an annual report on issues related to human rights. In February 2015, the first comprehensive guidance for companies to report on human rights issues in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) was presented. The United Nations Guiding Principles Reporting Framework is the culmination of 18 months of research and consultation by the leading center of expertise on the UNGPs– Shift, U.S.-based accounting firm WeiserMazars LLP and international accounting firm Mazars Group.

This framework will be a tool for companies to effectively manage risks to human rights throughout their operations and empowers companies to know and show that they respect human rights. The framework will help companies report on their policies, processes and performance in a way that responds to the growing number of regulatory requirements for human rights related reporting, including from the European Union, France, India, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the US. The Guiding Principles apply to all companies globally. Implementing effective human rights monitoring necessitates meaningful internal conversations and identifying areas for improvement in management processes to address their impact on human rights. Subsequently, the company will be able to provide more meaningful and constructive engagement with their external stakeholders.

The Reporting Framework will help companies meet their fast-growing demands for more transparency about how they are maintaining their responsibilities to respect human rights. Until now, companies reporting on human rights have been highly varied and focused on anecdotes and projects. The Reporting Framework provides clear guidance, based on a global standard for business and human rights that companies can report in a meaningful way.

Companies need to start by understanding what their responsibility is and adequately train and educate all affected stakeholders. CEOs need data, including public benchmarking of a company’s performance and reliable, independent information on country-level human rights situations. While organizations are certainly working towards improving their understanding of the issues, there are no shortcuts. This will take time. It is a journey.

The results of the survey demonstrate the growing consideration of human rights as a core element of business practices. We are proud to support this global movement working to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and remedied. This change in behavior has the potential to positively impact the lives of millions of people!

About the Author

Howard Dorman has more than 30 years of professional experience providing accounting, tax, and consulting services to privately held companies and service firms. He primarily works with businesses operating in manufacturing & distribution with a concentration in the food & beverage sector, specialty finance, and health care organizations. With a substantial background in Human Rights Reporting and Consulting Howard leads WeiserMazars’ efforts in Social Reporting and Compliance. In collaboration with Mazars and Shift, the firm recently issued a ground-breaking discussion paper on the development of global standards for human rights reporting and assurance, which puts forth standards to allow companies to demonstrate the extent to which they are aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. He is often featured in articles discussing the project.