Comment: A year in review

As I travel to Geneva for the 2nd UN Business and Human Rights Forum I thought I would take the opportunity to look back over the year twentyfifty has had.

Client work has included seeing Mondelez International, which launched its global cocoa sustainability program ‘Cocoa Life’ in late 2012, publish the ‘Cocoa Life Approach’ which puts the details on several aspects of this breakthrough program that promotes thriving cocoa growing communities, including an enhanced and proactive response to child labour.  Later in the year, the Cocoa Life program was launched in Indonesia- the first location outside Western Africa.  We are pleased to have contributed substantially to both developments.

Kuoni meanwhile, who we worked with in 2012 to develop the first human rights impact assessment to be conducted in the tourism sector, based on this experience progressed onto testing an impact assessment ‘workbook’ developed by us in India.

Our policy development process – which incorporates external as well as internal engagement to ensure policies gain stakeholder support – has been deployed a number of times over the year with success; in the telecoms, pharmaceutical and energy sectors and multi-stakeholder engagement has again been a feature of the work we are conducting for The Code Against Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Tourism Sector as it defines it working practices and structures.

We continued our ongoing program with the UN Global Compact Network in Germany, publishing ‘Menschenrechte Achten’ (Respecting Human Rights: An Introductory Guide for Business)   in both German and English during the year.  Two coaching courses also ran, for the first time conducted in German, and the Peer Learning Group – comprised of ‘alumni’ from the coaching program – met four times (twice virtually).  In addition to furthering their own company projects as part of this group, participants also considered topics such as ‘embedding human rights through awareness and training’, ‘organisational change and engaging senior leadership’, ‘human rights indicators for business’, and ‘Goals for 2014’.

2013 saw us growing the coverage of our Business and Human Rights Coaching and Learning programmes which have been developing in Germany since 2008.  Shortly after the last Forum I visited Kiev and spoke at the annual meeting of the local Global Compact Network.  Then in September 2013, with the support of the German government, we took our training course to Kiev.  My two visits to Kiev introduced me to a business community enthusiastic for EU membership, an aspiration also shared by the (young) populace – and is now being played out angrily on the streets.  Working with the UK Global Compact Network, we also ran a course in July in London with fifteen participants who have formed the beginning of a learning network there.

In the later part of the year, we were pleased to begin two significant projects designed to further responsible business practices geographically and thematically:

  • With the support of the UK Foreign Office, we are working with UN Global Compact Networks in Kenya and Indonesia to develop business learning programmes in those countries, akin to the learning networks underway in Germany, Ukraine and the UK
  • And on behalf of UNICEF we are undertaking a project to develop their capacity as an organisation to engage with extractives companies across Africa, using the Child Rights and Business Principles

Further, over the year we have contributed to:

  • The UN Global Compact’s development of the Sustainable Agriculture Business Principles
  • The UNGC human rights working group
  • The UNICEF Child Rights and Business Principles Tools Advisory Group, and Consultancy Group
  • Training hosted by the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights / Indian Global Compact Network in Bangalore in March

Reviewing the attendance for the UN Forum, its pleasing to see how many of the participants from the various courses we have run are attending.  Stepping back, we have seen growing government interest in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – and significantly the first national action plan being published by the UK.  The extractives sector stands out as continuing to be engaged in most numbers, with other sectors / companies still apparently working out what the implications of the Guiding Principles are for them.  What has been abundantly clear however – in the year which saw the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh and the loss of so many lives – the human rights impacts of economic activities have hardly ever been out of the news.