When I began my internship at BSR, I had one overarching question: Which organization in the business and human rights space is best positioned to have the greatest impact?
Unfortunately I still cannot answer that question with certainty. However, I leave BSR much less convinced that that is the right question to ask. In my previous blog post for the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University this summer, I touched on the necessity of all the players across the business and human rights space: businesses, nonprofits, and organizations like BSR that negotiate the space between the two.
Now, I find myself asking what is perhaps a much more critical question: What strategies can BSR and all other organizations working on business and human rights employ to accelerate change and maximize impact?
My experience at BSR has exposed me to a few of these strategies. They can be just as applicable to other organizations as they are to BSR.
1. Stakeholder Engagement: Internal and External
At BSR, I worked as part of the human rights team to conduct human rights impact assessments for companies in the extractives and information and communications technology industries. Stakeholder engagement in these projects entailed interviews with international experts on certain human rights issues, members of local communities affected by companies, and employees within the companies conducting the assessments.
These interviews allowed BSR to holistically view both the impacts of the issue at hand and the potential implementation challenges a company might face in addressing them. BSR could then cater its strategy to address the concerns raised throughout the process. This information, only accessible through these conversations, guides further research and informs BSR’s recommendations to the company so that it can maximize its positive impacts and mitigate any potential negative impacts.
2. Careful Choice of Language
Using the language of international human rights, often full of legal jargon, can make it more challenging for businesses to understand why they should take human rights considerations into account. It is important to translate language into terms that will resonate with the intended audience. Employees working at an apparel company, for example, may not realize the relevance of human rights in their company’s operations until they understand that human trafficking could be widespread in its supply chain. To maximize impact and accelerate change, people and organizations must cater their language to resonate with those that would need to take action to affect the desired outcome. Even those within the human rights departments of companies must make human rights language understandable and relevant to their colleagues across departments for a more integrated approach to respecting human rights.
3. Continued Consultation
For one of the human rights impact assessments that I participated in, BSR met regularly with human rights and sustainability leads in the company. This consultation not only allowed those within the company to stay informed of the project’s progress, but also influenced BSR’s research and overall strategy. The human rights and sustainability leads, who are inherently more familiar with the internal workings of their company, contributed insights into the most relevant language to use and the people within the company whose approval would be critical for the project’s implementation and success. This regular exchange will be key in helping maximize the potential impact of the project inside the company.
Each player in the business and human rights space plays a necessary role. What I learned at BSR is that discussions should focus less on comparisons of importance among players and more on ways for each to maximize impact and accelerate change. Stakeholder engagement, careful choice of language, and continued consultation are three possible strategies to achieve meaningful results.