Acorn Notes

Issue No. 13, May 2012

Human Rights and Business: A New Era

Expectations for global businesses to understand and manage human rights are increasing, and companies need resources to help meet this emerging element of social responsibility. In response, the UN issued its Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) to define the roles and responsibilities of business in protecting, respecting and remedying human rights. While some companies have been working to integrate human rights concerns into management systems for years, even the leaders are finding that there is much work to be done.

Companies looking for guidance in "demystifying" human rights should look to the November 2011, The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide, and opportunities to discuss with peers. A summary of lessons learned from the May 1, 2012 Implementation Workshop on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights hosted by the US State Department can be found below:

Institutional structure:

  • There’s no one right answer, it depends on organization
  • Given broad overlap of Human Rights (i.e. legal, HR, procurement, HSE, Communities, etc.), best to have Human Rights Champions in each group
  • Creating stand-alone Human Rights group creates silos and not conducive to broad acceptance
  • Yet, Human Rights head needs independent reporting to executive level

Need to demystify “Human Rights” for personnel

  • Term is poorly understood and too big for people
  • Need to develop understanding within the organization
  • Focus less on history of UNDHR, Global Compact, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, etc. and more on “what do I need to know”, i.e. HR should focus on labor and employment
  • Tailor each training session to responsibilities of the audience

Human Rights Due Diligence

  • A key responsibility of business (per Guiding Principles)
  • Scale of implementation will vary by country/operation level of risk, yet need to institutionalize the process and provide input to management/planning/budgets
  • Supply chains a key challenge - prioritize efforts based on:
    • A) Level of influence
    • B) Level of impact

There are many standards out there

  • True, but need to differentiate between optional programs (i.e. global compact) and international law (i.e. ILO Standards)


  • Need to improve monitoring, not to play “Gotcha”, but to help make monitoring a tool to solve problems

Start slow, be strategic, start with the basics

  • Implementation of grievance mechanisms a good starting point for many companies

Acorn International was the only consulting firm participating in this workshop. Two of our consultants are undergoing training and certification through the Human Rights Education Associates “Human Rights Evaluation and Monitoring” program. And we are working with some of the world’s largest extractive industry companies and financial institutions to integrate human rights into management systems and perform human rights assessments/verifications for their investments in emerging economies.

We believe that understanding and effectively managing human rights responsibilities will be one of the most important challenges facing global industries and investors in the coming years, and together with our network of legal, community-based and specialized experts, we are committed to being ready to provide support as needed.

Acorn International Notes

Acorn Notes is a series of periodic papers to share ideas regarding EHSS and sustainability management for international industry.

Issue 21 - March 2014: Above-ground Facilities and Stakeholder Engagement: Deploying the 'CAC'
Issue 20 - March 2014: A Starting Point for Shared Equity
Issue 19 - March 2014: What It Takes to Run a Great Consulting Firm
Issue 18 - February 2014: Considering Human Rights - Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments
Issue 17 - June 2013: Managing Environmental Health in International Development Projects
Issue 16 - January 2013: Integrating Environmental and Social Performance throughout the Project Lifecycle
Issue 15 - January 2013: The State of Shale Play in 2013
Issue 14 - August 2012: Building Environmental and Social Governance in Host Countries
Issue 13 - May 2012: Human Rights and Business: A New Era
Issue 12 - February 2012: Extractive Industries Confront Pressure for Greater Transparency
Issue 11 - January 2012: Key Updates to the IFC Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards
Issue 10 - June 2011: Oil & Gas and NGOs: New Rules of Engagement?
Issue 9 - February 2010: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 8 - January 2009: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 7 - May 2008: Top Ten Lessons Learned About Health Impact Assessment
Issue 6 - January 2008: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 5 - September 2007: Results of web forum with our International Partners
Issue 4 - January 2007: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 3 - May 2006: Suggestions and tips for safe international travel
Issue 2 - January 2006: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 1 - November 2005: The Top 10 "unspoken" criteria for determining the success of EIAs


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