While investors and companies are increasingly aware of human rights abuses, they are less informed on actions they can take to address them. Yet the well-being of the workers who stitch our garments, harvest our coffee beans and assemble our electronics depends on a proactive investor and corporate response.
The vast number of companies, suppliers, contractors, recruiters and labor brokers involved in today’s global marketplace often obscures the conditions under which work is done and products are made, making identification and eradication of human rights abuses, such as forced labor and human trafficking, a complex and overwhelming challenge. Creating a world in which all humans are afforded the right to work in safe and healthy conditions will require the action of individual companies, as well as intra-and cross-sector collaboration.
For decades now, multinationals have taken 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. Human rights are everyone’s business.
The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability calls on companies to establish formal human rights policies—covering both direct employees and supplier partners— aligned with international standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core conventions on fundamental rights at work. Conducting regular human rights due diligence assessments to assess, measure and mitigate risks, and disclosing management systems in place for implementation, are also key expectations.
And these steps are just the beginning. Advancing human rights 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.
We work with companies to establish these necessary and critical policies and management systems. And we engage with investors, companies and civil society to address these issues across global operations and supply chains — from agricultural commodities to community access to clean water, from fair labor practices to a more dedicated focus on what it takes to improve worker well-being.
These market players can use the power of their voice and influence to respect and protect the basic human rights of workers from executive offices to factory floors and fields.
The bottom line is, investors and companies have a business and moral obligation to ensure that economic activities don’t come at the expense of human rights.