Since Yuri Itoh joined Hitachi, Ltd., she has worked on everything from business development in Europe to environmental strategy to her current position as senior manager in Hitachi, Ltd.’s CSR Promotion Department, where she focuses on the company's role in society.

She spoke with us about how the company has evolved from a position of managing environmental and social issues to integrating those commitments into its core business. She also shared her experience working with Hitachi, Ltd. to implement its human rights due diligence programs.

Eva Dienel: You work in CSR at Hitachi, Ltd.. How does the company define CSR?

Yuri Itoh: CSR is the foundation—the essential part for a company to be sustainable. We have to minimize negative impacts and maximize the positive impacts on society.

Dienel: Tell us about your particular focus on human rights.

Itoh: When I moved to the CSR department, there was a group policy: We made a real commitment and integrated it into our corporate rules. We had done some education internally, both to management and employees, and we had already started some human rights due diligence projects required by the UN Guiding Principles. But it was still not clear what we should do after that. Plus, we were the first company in Japan to do work on this issue, and there were very few companies even globally, so the [examples of what to do] were really limited.

So we worked with BSR on pilot projects to analyze the potential human rights risks in Southeast Asia. This was a basis for us to start our human rights due diligence process. The difficulty for our strategy is that our business sector is quite wide—from materials to big systems. Our number of subsidiaries is about 1,000 nowadays, and we are quite active in many countries. So it was not realistic to do it all at once.

After I moved to CSR, I thought, “Let’s start from procurement because it is horizontally connected, group-wise.” This is a little different from the approach other companies take because, in many cases, I believe they will choose certain projects or certain countries. But I selected a function—procurement—because of the uniqueness of our group.

We have just started the first steps, but it is a very important stage because we have to integrate this risk-management and value-creation culture from the human rights perspective into the Hitachi, Ltd. group.

Dienel: What are Hitachi, Ltd.’s top priorities in your CSR department?

Itoh: From the CSR point of view, our top priority is the human rights due diligence process. We started the process in procurement last year, so we have selected some aspects to prioritize, and now we are working to implement the results—the actual policies or guidance will be provided to the suppliers. Embedding the human rights due diligence process into procurement activities is one of the priorities for us, and, of course, we are going to work on a similar process for other functions this year.

We also set up a working group last year for human rights due diligence in procurement, and through that process, we learned the meaning of human rights due diligence and the Guiding Principles. It was very difficult for us to understand, “What does this mean in reality?” But by doing the procurement pilot project, we learned how we can do human rights due diligence. This helped the working group members realize the importance of human rights issues and their relationship with the business.

Dienel: In a way, you needed to translate what the Guiding Principles mean for Hitachi, Ltd.?

Itoh: Right.

Dienel: And what did you learn?

Itoh: First of all, it means having a risk-management process that will minimize negative impacts. Even if we know we are not perfect and we are still at the beginning phase, this helps us know how far we should go.

It is a continuous improvement process. Realizing that is an important thing. In the beginning of our human rights due diligence process, we were wondering how far we should go—when can we say we have done everything we need to? What is the scoring standard? I now realize that there is no perfect process—and that the process is ongoing.

Dienel: How have you embedded your lessons into policies and the company’s culture?

Itoh: We always have to try to involve management, because this process is not only about the CSR department. I have to move other divisions, so in order to do that, the management support is necessary.

Dienel: How did you engage management?

Itoh: That is the reason why my predecessor incorporated the strategy group policy as part of the corporate role. Plus, they gave the human rights training to management, and I am also continuing that training with management and board members every year. It’s important that they know what’s going on globally in this field.

This blog is one in a series highlighting BSR members and their sustainability stories. To learn more about BSR membership, please contact memberservices@bsr.org, visit the BSR Membership webpage, or join the conversation at #BSRmember.