A Practical Approach to Business and Human Rights

August 6, 2013
  • France Bourgouin

    Former Manager, BSR

France Bourgouin, Manager, Advisory Services, BSR

Increasingly, companies are integrating human rights into corporate strategy, but challenges remain in putting theory into practice. At a recent event in our Paris office, BSR hosted a discussion with guest speakers from the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA), Total, and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to examine practical strategies for implementing the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

We opened the event by presenting lessons from BSR’s work with companies to conduct effective human rights impacts assessments, and we then turned the discussion to focus on the need for companies to integrate human rights into corporate strategy. The speakers agreed that this should be done on an ongoing basis by engaging people throughout the company and by developing concrete examples that highlight how the company dealt with different issues in practice.

Total outlined the process it undertook to develop an internal guide on human rights issues and presented specific examples of work it conducted in partnership with various NGOs and UN agencies in Myanmar and Angola. Through this work, Total raised civil servant awareness of internal standards, conducted workshops on prevention of forced labor, and funded socioeconomic projects in refugee camps.  

IPIECA, which has worked with the global oil and gas industry on environmental and social issues since 1974, has given human rights and business specific attention in recent years, focusing on three themes: due diligence, grievance mechanisms, and external engagement. Through this initiative, IPIECA has issued several publications to promote best practices for the industry, led peer-to-peer workshops, and offered human rights training.

Examples presented at the BSR event demonstrated how far the industry has come in trying to address issues of human rights. But speakers agreed that practical implementation is complicated by the fact that the landscape is ever-changing and there are no quick fixes.

To continue moving forward, companies should focus on raising awareness of human rights issues with governments through workshops and improve internal alignment within the different business units by developing company-specific guidelines and practical scenarios to test internal processes. To ensure that the scenarios are successful, it is critical to include the right staff in the company so they can come together with key stakeholders to discuss the issue, reach a common understanding of how to handle the problem, and, more importantly, decide on the concrete steps that should be taken.

To help companies integrate human rights into their operations, the BSR Human Rights Working Group offers a hands-on platform focusing on practical implementation challenges that are shared across sectors through in-person meetings, webinars, teleconferences, and an online platform for dialogue.

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