Business, People and Planet: Five updates from Q3 of 2020

Anna Triponel | September 2020

Welcome to Q4 of 2020! 

Here are five updates for you from Q3 2020:

1. Due diligence laws are upon us!

EU legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence is moving forward and on track to be introduced in 2021. Multiple EU entities are sharing comments to shape the proposed legislation, including the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Development, and the European Economic and Social Council. Germany and the UK are following suit with their own proposed laws on corporate due diligence to assess risks to people and planet. 

2. Child labour is getting worse

152 million children are currently in child labour, and child rights are expected to worsen in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: the crisis is projected to further increase child labour, especially in the informal sector, exacerbate hunger and further limit access to education.

3. Climate risk = financial risk

Recognising the urgent threat of climate change to the economy, regulators got closer than ever to measures that would require companies and financial actors to disclose their climate-related financial risks. Investors also pushed companies to be transparent about their climate risk and explored new ways to finance the low-carbon transition. 

4. Red flags in China

There was heightened evidence of Uyghurs being detained in ‘re-education’ camps in Xinjiang, China (over 1 million since 2017), and forced to work in factories, in and outside of Xinjiang, that supply companies, especially in the apparel and food sectors. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) speaks about a presumption that goods from Xinjiang are produced with forced labor, and auditors have withdrawn from the region due to their inability to conduct audits. This has led investors, governments and civil society to put pressure on companies sourcing from and selling products to China.  

5. Stakeholder or shareholder?

We marked the one-year anniversary of the Business Roundtable’s declaration on the social purpose of a corporation–and the 50-year anniversary of Milton Friedman’s argument that the purpose of a company is to maximize profits for shareholders. Many companies grappled with the question of what “corporate purpose” means in practice and how to resolve the tension between shareholder capitalism and stakeholder capitalism.

And here is an update from me:

Like many of you reading this, I’m passionate about helping integrate respect for people into business structures. I am also deeply concerned about the climate crisis, and committed to playing a role to help create a resilient, inclusive, net zero carbon future. I can see through my work how a human rights lens, which captures vulnerability to impacts, can help companies focus their environmental work; and vice versa, how environmental actions can exacerbate human rights challenges.

  • Since January of 2020, I have dedicated 25% of my time pro bono to supporting the wider community as we grapple with these issues, both on the people and planet fronts.
  • I have re-imagined how Triponel Consulting brings value to clients and the wider corporate responsibility community by transitioning into an umbrella model. I bring together teams which include exceptional senior advisors and advisors with experience across the globe and in diverse sectors – from the business and human rights, sustainability and environmental spheres. 
  • By taking a holistic approach and breaking down our silos as consultants, we can better support our clients to do the same. Further, in time of COVID-19, we have found that it is all the more important to seek out creative brainstorming opportunities to push boundaries.
  • If you are interested in bringing the climate and human rights arenas together further and/or are interested in becoming a part of this new model, reach out!

You might be interested in being a part of the Countdown which launches on Saturday 10th at 11 am Eastern/ 4 pm UK time. The Countdown is a global initiative coordinated by TED Talks to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action. The goal is to build a better future by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 in order to achieve a zero-carbon world — a world that is safer, cleaner and fairer for everyone. I participated in a pre-event with Al Gore, Chris Anderson, Lindsay Levin, Melati Wijsen and Jo Confino and I’ve written up some key remarks for you.

Here are some of our latest resources on business and human rights topics designed to help save you some time:

  • The business case: I commonly get asked to help managers make the business case internally for human rights respect – in particular when actions they are seeking to put in place cost money in the immediate term, and may be viewed as conflicting with cost-cutting measures the company is implementing. This post describes some relevant research and studies that might be helpful complements to data managers can gather internally.

  • Assessing Human Rights Risk in Company Supply Chains: A number of companies in recent years have made significant progress in mapping potential human rights risks throughout their value chains, and the process is helping them focus on a select number of the most important, most severe – also known as the most ‘salient’ – human rights issues within their supply chains. This post describes the factors that are helping companies assess human rights risks in their supply chains, and this post provides an overview of lessons learned from companies looking to use country indices in their assessment of supply chain risk, as well as an overview of the full range of indices available.

  • Grievance mechanisms: Those of you interested in psychology will have heard of the torch metaphor to illustrate the difference between the conscious and the unconscious. A torch shining into a dark room lights up some objects – we become conscious that these objects are there. All other objects not lit up by the torch remain in the dark: we don’t even know that they are there, since we can’t see them (our unconscious, in this metaphor). I use a similar image when discussing grievance mechanisms with companies. You can find out more here

  • Human rights policy: Is it possible to develop a ‘bad’ statement? Yes, it is. While we often say that respecting human rights is a journey, and that each company will have its own unique path depending on its human rights risk profile, it is possible for a company to develop a ‘bad’ human rights policy commitment. I’ve worked on too many policy commitments to count. But more importantly, I’ve worked with companies on the embedding of their rights-respecting culture – after or in parallel to the development of their policy commitments. There are some distinct features of ‘bad’, and ‘good’, human rights policy commitments. Click here for further info.

The Future We Create, and the role of the consumer:

We created this publication, The Future We Create, with Anna Turrell on Medium to empower us as human beings to play a role through our purchases, working lives and voting decisions to create a future in which people and planet are respected. 

We started out by exploring the role of the consumer. If we consider the potential power of consumers, and with management consultant Peter Drucker’s words in mind — that the “purpose of business is to create and keep a customer” — wouldn’t a consumer-led movement be the most effective way to enable a level playing field for sustainable business? 

Put differently, if consumers and customers demand that the companies they buy from pay attention to people and the planet as they make their products, wouldn’t this be the strongest driver that exists to enable sustainable business? You can find out where we land on this question here and here, with further information to be published in the 2021 Cambridge Companion to Business and Human Rights. Spoiler alert: we find inherent limitations in the ability for consumers to lead to meaningful change at scale and we urge companies to play an instrumental role to empower consumers to make sustainable choices. 

Best of luck for Q4 of 2020 and don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss and debate further.

See you at the Countdown launch on Saturday!

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