Human rights are everyone’s business, and every business has a critical role to play in ensuring fair, safe, and equitable workplaces not only across global supply chains, but also – as we’re learning this week in the wake of President Trump’s immigration ban – within corporate walls.

For decades now, multi-nationals have been taking steps to protect the basic human rights of workers in their global supply chains, but have not always recognized a similar need in their own operations. Yet internationally recognized human rights standards like the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights do not differentiate based on geography. They call on companies to respect human rights in direct operations and across their value chains, no matter where they operate.

field laborers at work

 

To do this, companies must establish formal human rights policies aligned with international standards, conduct regular human rights due diligence assessments to assess, measure, and mitigate risks, and disclose management systems in place for implementation.

But those are just the beginning. To effectively advance human rights – by translating policies preventing discrimination, child and forced labor and unsafe working conditions from words on paper to corporate cultures that truly embrace principles of diversity and inclusion, freedom and human dignity – requires bold leadership and a willingness to speak out when those rights are threatened.

Recently many iconic American companies have spoken out against legislation that would limit gay and transgender rights, and for swift action to address pay disparity and lack of diversity within their industries. We’ve also just witnessed Apple, Google, Nike, and others speak out on the ramifications of President Trump’s recent executive order severely restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries while giving special exceptions to Christians traveling from those countries.

Tech companies, which are hugely reliant on highly skilled immigrants, were especially outspoken in opposing the immigration ban. “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do,” Apple CEO Tim Cook, wrote to his employees. Nike Chairman and CEO Mark Parker expressed broader concerns. “Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from or who you love, everyone’s individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole,” Parker said in a staff email.

Whether it’s Nike or Apple on immigration, or earlier business boycotts in North Carolina and Indiana on other social issues, business has a clear leadership role to play. It can use the power of its voice and its influence to respect and protect the basic human rights of workers from executive offices to factory floors and fields. Now is not the time to stay silent.

Meet The Experts

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Amy Augustine

Senior Director, Company Network

Amy is Senior Director of the Company Network at Ceres, co-leading a team of sustainable business strategists advising Ceres member companies on integrating sustainability into core business strategies and decision-making. Amy and her team bring companies together with investors, environmental and social issue experts, and other key stakeholders in face-to-face dialogues to find smart business solutions to today’s biggest sustainability challenges. With more than 15 years of experience in sustainability, Amy also leads specific projects related to The 21st Century Corporation: The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, including Ceres’ human rights and supply chain initiatives, and co-developed the Supplier Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ): Building the Foundation for Sustainable Supply Chains.

Prior to joining Ceres, Amy led and managed diversity and international labor relations research, advocacy, and policy initiatives at Calvert Investments. At Calvert, Amy helped develop the Calvert Women’s Principles, the first global code of conduct focused on empowering, advancing, and investing in women worldwide, and its companion Gender Equality Principles' Initiative. Amy co-authored two reports on corporate diversity practices, including Examining the Cracks in the Ceiling: A Survey of Corporate Diversity Practices in the Calvert Social Index, and spearheaded efforts to file more than 50 shareholder resolutions on board diversity and equal employment opportunities.

Amy serves on the board of the Global Compact Network USA. She previously chaired the steering committee of the Sustainable Investment Research Analyst Network (SIRAN), and graduated from the University of Kansas.