25 Insights, 25 Years

Photo by deberarr on iStock

April 17, 2024
Authors
  • Dunstan Allison-Hope portrait

    Dunstan Allison-Hope

    Senior Advisor, BSR

I recently entered a new life as a freelance consultant after 20 wonderful years across various roles at BSR and 5 equally wonderful years at BT. 

The field of just and sustainable business has experienced tremendous change during these 25 years, and I have been fortunate enough to experience a lot of that change firsthand. 

I decided to enter my new freelancing era by writing a short paper setting out the lessons I have learned and the point of view I have developed during this time. The result is 25 Insights, 25 Years

This paper contains 25 insights across 5 themes that represent those areas of greatest familiarity to me: business and human rights; technology and human rights; reporting and disclosure; public policy; and the field of just and sustainable business.  

I believe that succinctness makes key ideas digestible and accessible, so I have limited my reflections to no more than one page for each insight.  

Throughout the paper I have used the term “we” to mean those of us in the field of just and sustainable business, including those working in companies, civil society organizations, governments, investors, research, academia, and consulting. We may not agree on everything, but we know who we are, and we are all pushing in similar directions.  

The paper sets out my authentic point of view on the future of just and sustainable business by drawing upon my experience rather than research or interviews. These are my reflections based solely on what I have seen, heard, and learned. 

The 25 insights reflect my point of view in early 2024. I am sure my views will evolve over time with new experiences, but I hope the paper provides practical value and becomes something you refer to from time to time. I hope the paper sparks discussion—I am sure you will not agree with everything!—and puts forward ideas that can increase the impact of the field. 

I would love for you to read the whole paper, but to whet your appetite, here are the 25 insights you’ll be reading about: 

Business and Human Rights 

  • Ongoing human rights due diligence is more important than a “single moment in time” assessment. 
  • Companies should maintain and report a formal register of risks to people and the environment, alongside the formal register of risks to the enterprise. 
  • Meaningful engagement with directly impacted [or “host country”] stakeholders can reveal very different priorities than engagement constrained to “expert” [or “home country”] stakeholders. 
  • Human rights-based approaches define “how” business should be done, but don’t always determine “what” business should be done. 
  • The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights should have a fourth pillar called “the opportunity to promote”. 

Technology and Human Rights 

  • Companies deploying technology have as much influence over human rights impacts as companies developing technology.  
  • Focusing on near-term harm will position us better in the long-term. 
  • We should focus on “little tech”, not just “big tech”. 
  • We need a greater emphasis on systemwide approaches to human rights due diligence to complement company-specific human rights due diligence. 
  • We should emphasize both risks and opportunities. 

Reporting and Disclosure 

  • Reporting and disclosure are necessary but not sufficient. 
  • Materiality and salience assessments should be combined. 
  • Who prepares, approves, and reads the report is more important than how many people read the report. 
  • We need an equivalent of the Form 10-K for sustainability reporting. 
  • Apples and oranges should be compared. 

Public Policy 

  • Companies should comply with both the spirit and letter of law. 
  • Sustained and responsible public policy engagement is essential for long-term risk mitigation. 
  • We need a stronger vision of what it means to “remain responsibly” and provide space for companies seeking to do this well. 
  • Understanding how change really happens inside companies should have a bigger influence on public policy creation. 
  • We should celebrate not diminish compliance efforts. 

The Field of Just and Sustainable Business 

  • Great things can happen when different professional communities collaborate.  
  • Don’t confuse accountability with complexity. 
  • Changing company culture is more impactful than auditing. 
  • Advocates working in civil society organizations should be celebrated. 
  • Practitioners of just and sustainable business inside companies should be celebrated. 

This blog first appeared at www.dunstanhope.com

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