Human Rights Training: Who Needs It, What They Need to Know, and How It Should Work

September 25, 2012
  • Elissa Goldenberg

    Former Manager, BSR

Since the emergence of the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, companies have started to think about how to apply the principles in their day-to-day operations. An important component of this is ensuring that every person in the company understands what human rights are and how they relate to the company as a whole and to their individual responsibilities. Training and engaging employees on human rights—from line workers to the CEO—is an important step in embedding human rights in the corporate culture and influencing decision-making, both of which are key goals articulated in the Guiding Principles. Many companies face the same human rights issues, such as the rights to enjoy just and favorable work conditions, to exercise rights without discrimination, or to enjoy freedom of opinion and expression. But whether it's a companywide video, an interactive slide presentation, mandatory online quizzes, or a combination of several approaches, every company should choose the approach that fits best within its culture and existing training programs. This topic was the focus of discussion for BSR's Human Rights Working Group, which launched earlier this year. One takeaway from our conversation was that companies should take a hybrid approach to training that includes a basic, simple training for the entire company, as well as targeted, in-depth trainings for priority groups.

Who Should Be Trained?

The short answer: everyone. However, not everyone in the company needs to have the same level of human rights expertise. This presents a segmentation challenge: identifying who in the company needs to know how much, and determining how to tailor the training materials for these different audiences. For instance, accountants may only need a basic training on the company's human rights commitments, while factory managers need to be trained on working conditions and labor rights, and security personnel will need training on civil rights as well. There are several ways to segment your audience, from location (site level or country level) to job department and function. In our experience, most companies use a combination of location and position level. Other approaches can also work: Mazda, for instance, trains employees when they are promoted. Not only does this allow the company to reinforce human rights messages at a key point in employees' careers, but it also emphasizes that human rights are a part of senior-level responsibilities. Barrick Gold Corporation takes this one step further by including references to human rights in job descriptions and requirements, thereby ensuring that human rights are integrated into employment expectations. Once audiences are segmented, designing and delivering human rights training to each group can be daunting, especially for companies with a global workforce. It can be easier to narrow the focus after the general human rights training is rolled out by using a companywide risk assessment to identify the departments or regions that carry the greatest human rights risks.

What Do Target Audiences Need to Know?

To truly embed human rights throughout operations, every person in the organization should have a general understanding of what the company's human rights responsibilities are and how human rights issues impact the company in both positive and negative ways. Companywide human rights training should explain the company's greatest human rights risks and opportunities in a way that relates to the company's specific operations, services, and products. Mining companies can use real-world examples of specific security risks at a mine site. Telecommunications companies, on the other hand, might explain how privacy and freedom of expression can both hinder or advance human rights. While every company should tailor its training and engagement to its operating context, the following components are relevant for all:

  • Provide the context. Cover relevant international and industry standards and company policies and commitments on human rights.
  • Describe how human rights apply to the company. Include both risks and opportunities for the company to advance the human rights agenda. If possible, include a message from upper management to emphasize why it's important to the company.
  • Outline how human rights are relevant to individuals. Explain how human rights considerations can enhance individuals' daily decision-making as well as the consequences of noncompliance, such as supply chain disruptions, damaged corporate reputation, or legal implications.
  • Detail what's in it for the rights holders. Explain who might be affected by company decisions, and how they benefit from the company's strong human rights commitment.

The first step in designing tailored trainings for your target audiences is to understand each group: What are their job responsibilities, and which human rights issues are relevant for them? Tailor the training to the target groups' specific level of understanding, motivation for action, learning style, and culture.

How Should the Information Be Conveyed?

It is most efficient to embed human rights content into existing training frameworks—and, as emphasized above, every company should take a different approach. BSR has developed techniques to make training on a difficult subject such as "human rights" more effective:

  1. Provide positive reinforcement and recognition. Even though human rights trainings should be mandatory, providing rewards or recognition for employees that become internal "human rights champions" can help drive compliance throughout the company.
  2. Use e-learning platforms to deliver interactive trainings that give real-time feedback on content knowledge. These platforms can also help companies track whether the required employees have completed training and they can help identify issues that employees are struggling on.
  3. Bring human rights issues to life by using real-world examples and storytelling. Use scenarios that employees can identify with to make what can be ambiguous definitions of rights tangible. Also explain to employees how grievance mechanisms can be used to report violations or concerns and remedy problems.
  4. Experiment with nontraditional platforms such as forums or blogs. BestBuy's Chief Ethics Officer Kathleen Edmond uses a blog to openly discuss ethical issues that affect BestBuy's employees, customers, and shareholders. By doing so, she brings relevant issues to life, and she actively engages in conversations with stakeholders by encouraging them to comment on her blogs and by responding to their inquiries. Similarly, Yahoo!'s Business and Human Rights Program maintains an online hub, which includes a blog, relevant news and events, and descriptions of the company's human rights-related initiatives.

There are many different approaches to human rights training and engagement, and no one way is better than the other. To be successful, think about how your company has developed a strong culture around compliance, safety, or diversity, and apply similar approaches to human rights. Training should be the first step in this process, but is it enough? How can companies encourage staff to integrate a human rights lens into daily decision-making? And how do we reinforce continuous improvement in this area? We want to hear from you.

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

Contact Us

You Might Also Like

Sorry, no related articles have been published, yet.