What does 2023 hold? It’s an exciting time for human rights
23 January 2023
Caroline Vail joined as our Director of Industrials, Tech and Finance in September 2022. As we start the new year with a renewed sense of energy and purpose, we asked her to describe what working in human rights means to her in 2023.
There is a fascinating shift happening. On the one hand, we see more and more governments legislating business respect for human rights, and on the other, businesses are increasingly recognising how human rights approaches are core to solving some of our biggest challenges - climate change and inequality. In my 20-year career, there has never been a more exciting time to work in human rights and social impact. Here’s why:
1. The golden thread of ESG
Human rights is the golden thread that weaves the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) pillars together. Without taking a ‘human lens’ to understand risks and opportunities, it is almost impossible to develop an effective and integrated ESG strategy, let alone implement one.
2. The rise of legislation
This year human rights requirements for businesses are being enshrined in law by the German Supply Chain Act. This is big. In an increasing number of countries, companies are now legally required to proactively manage the human rights risks and impacts of their own operations and their global supply chains.
3. A just transition
When I explain that human rights and tackling climate change are inextricably linked, it usually grabs people’s attention. Perhaps people don’t realise that the effects of climate change (water scarcity, desertification, extreme weather) severely impact human rights making the vulnerable even more vulnerable. Perhaps they haven’t considered that how we transition to a decarbonised world is just as important as by when. Or that we need to do it in a ‘just’ way for all; one that doesn’t create winners and losers from a human rights perspective. A successful response to the climate crisis, a just transition, will require that we put respect for human rights at its core.
How do we tackle these challenges to create opportunities?
At the heart of how twentyfifty helps its clients manage all this, is the embedding of ongoing Human Rights Due Diligence – the backbone of the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights – a continual improvement process for identifying, managing and responding to human rights risks and impacts.
Traditionally, businesses have looked at risks to the business. We take a different approach. We start by understanding the rightsholder perspective first, identifying the risks to people or rightsholders, and addressing the negative impacts. By doing so, we also unlock positive opportunities such as increasing shareholder value, reducing delays and community opposition, becoming an operator and employer of choice, improving productivity, innovation and being successful whilst fulfilling a changing social contract.
By putting people first, we understand the root of the problem
How can our clients transition in a ‘just’ way from fossil fuels? How do global food supply chains respond to increasing climate pressure? How do we manage the potential loss of jobs and skills and the breakdown of social cohesion and community as some industries cease to exist?
By starting with rightsholders, we can find the answers
They enable us to explore new options, perhaps by catalysing local and regional socio-economic development opportunities or by bringing fresh ideas, that create more resilient supply chains and better prospects for workers and the environment.
By establishing new systems, we ensure impacts are addressed
By implementing Human Rights Due Diligence, companies are better able to address the impacts of their business operations on people and get ahead of increasing legislation. Our clear message to clients is 'there is no way around due diligence and now is the time to start’.
It is an exciting time to work in human rights
Having come from inside the business, I am passionate about ‘operationalising’ human rights; moving away from the academic descriptions and towards practical and integrated solutions that are woven into business DNA, in partnership with stakeholders and in dialogue with rights holders.
I have seen how this approach creates business opportunities and a win-win-win for business, people and the planet even in the most complex of operating environments.