GRI: How to report on your human rights

GRI: How to report on your human rights

Urgent action to fight climate change has brought sustainable finance, and sustainability in business models more generally, into mainstream. Most of the attention has been focussing on the ‘E’ part of the three totemic pillars that are ‘E’, ‘S’ and ‘G’ (standing for ‘environment’, ‘social’ and ‘governance’). For good reasons arguably, though in reality, much of the talk has been limited to reducing carbon emissions.

What about the other two pillars of sustainability? War in Europe, scandal-tainted sporting events, protests for women’s freedoms in Islamic countries and the brutal handling of CoVID patients in China have brought human rights violations to the spotlight during 2022. With them, a cold reminder that human rights cannot be taken for granted.

Regulatory action is advancing, too. A recent proposal for a European Directive is now under negotiations by co-legislators. It would require large companies to carry out due diligence across their value chain and identify the potential or actual adverse environmental and human rights-related impacts of their activities. Where they would identify such risks, these companies would have to take action to mitigate their impacts. These companies would also have to be transparent about their due diligence and the impacts they have identified.

Regardless of whether companies are in the scope of this Directive, sustainable business models must take human rights into account. Thankfully, organisations needn’t start from scratch, as useful guidance can be found in long-standing and internationally recognised standards and frameworks. These include the GRI’s sustainability reporting standards, which can also help organisations looking to become more transparent on the impacts of their value chain by reporting:

  • what policy commitments the organisation has taken,
  • how these commitments are embedded in their activities and business relationships, and
  • how the organisation intends to remediate the negative impacts it has identified.

In our last article, we argued that the GRI reporting standards provide a useful training ground in preparation to the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS). These will include disclosures on companies’ social impacts throughout the value chain. As GRI requires reporting organisations to identify their material topics and how they engage (or plan to engage) their stakeholders, the voluntary reporting standards allow reporting organisations to communicate on their due diligence process.

Human rights cannot be treated as a single topic amongst many others that an organisation needs to report on. Rather, human rights are connected to all sustainability disclosures in GRI. This reflects that such issues are also connected to all business activities of a company. Taking clear commitments is only the first step. Detecting how activities in the value chain impact workers, communities or consumers requires a broad introspection in which the organisation’s stakeholders should be involved. Human rights cannot be taken for granted. For businesses, it is a continuous improvement cycle in which transparency is the last key step to keep organisations accountable.

As part of the InFiNelu scholarship programme, asks its scholars to give insights of the executive training attended thanks to the scholarship. This is the second article of Thomas Collin, corporate social responsibility officer at ABBL, about the GRI (Global Reporting Intitiative) Certified Professional + Programme organised by Forethix.