BSR at Rio: To Brazil and Back Again—A 20-Year Human Rights Journey

June 14, 2012
  • Alison Colwell

    Former Associate Director, BSR

This is the second post in a series covering BSR at the Rio+20 Summit. The first post reflects on accomplishments in CSR over the past 20 years, the third post discusses the future of fuels, and the fourth post extends the "future of fuels" discussion to include the Brazilian perspective. The fifth post compares Rio+20 and the G20 Leaders' Summit.

I will have the opportunity to return to Brazil, my place of birth, for the Rio+20 Earth Summit almost 20 years since I was there last. As an American, Canadian, and Brazilian, I will be a part of the global community descending on Rio, also two decades since the first Earth Summit. I can almost feel the anticipatory energy of the Brazilian people and the thousands of arriving participants.

We live in a different world now. For human rights, the UN Global Compact’s Human Rights Principles and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights underscore a new global expectation that business must operate with respect for human rights.

As a result, companies are faced with tough questions related to business and human rights, such as:

  • How can companies integrate human rights management into their existing systems and decision-making processes?
  • How can companies both mitigate human rights risks and maximize opportunities to contribute to sustainable development?

We will attempt to answer these questions during the panel “How Companies are Implementing Human Rights Strategies—from Policy to Practice,” which I will facilitate at the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, organized by the UN Global Compact from June 15-18.

BSR’s approach to managing human rights is aligned with the UN Guiding Principles and recommends that companies:

  • Establish executive and operational level governance structures for human rights and integrate with existing human rights governance systems
  • Develop a policy statement to articulate a commitment to human rights for internal and external audiences
  • Undertake human rights assessments to identify key risks and opportunities
  • Create strategy and action plans for key risks and opportunities and integrate human rights into management systems (decision making processes, trainings, etc.)
  • Establish effective grievance and remedy mechanisms
  • Review progress against objectives and communicate externally via sustainability reporting and other channels, such as the Global Compact Communication on Progress

During the panel, Christian Frutiger, Nestlé S.A.’s deputy head of global public affairs, will share the company’s approach to human rights due diligence, and Mary Porter Peschka, head of advisory services in Latin America and the Caribbean for the International Finance Corporation, will share IFC’s expectations for human rights management by corporations.

My personal journey has evolved over the last 20 years and provided me with the opportunity to work on sustainability and human rights in academic, corporate, NGO, and international finance settings, first as a student, now as a professional, and always as a global citizen committed to sustainable development and inclusive growth. As I prepare to fly to Rio, I am thankful that over the past few years that the UN has defined the global expectation and standards for human rights, as embodied in the Guiding Principles, through a collaborative process and extensive multi-stakeholder consultation around the world. I hope that we as a global community can continue collaborate in our journey to enhance respect for each other as individuals and respect for the environment we share.

For more information, you can read about BSR’s cross-industry human rights work.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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