GRI raises the global bar for due diligence and human rights reporting
Published date: 05 October 2021
Standards for greater transparency on impacts than ever before
The GRI Standards have today been strengthened so they deliver the highest level of transparency for impacts on the economy, environment and people, with a major update to the very foundation of the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting standards.
The launch of the revised Universal Standards – to be used by over 10,000 companies that already use GRI for their reporting – will:
Bring a razor-sharp focus to determining material topics, with clarity on reporting principles, requirements and structure – ensuring reports are of the highest quality, informing improved decision-making by reporting organizations and information users alike.
Provide the first and only reporting standards to fully reflect due diligence expectations for organizations to manage their sustainability impacts, including on human rights, as set forth in intergovernmental instruments by the UN and OECD.
Enable consistent and comparable reporting, best positioning companies to respond to emerging regulatory requirements, such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the enterprise value reporting plans by the IFRS Foundation.
Also unveiled today is the publication of the first GRI Sector Standard – for oil and gas – as part of GRI’s integrated and complete modular system of sustainability reporting. Organizations begin with the Universal Standards, then their applicable Sector Standards alongside relevant Topic Standards.
The addition of Sector Standards will help companies focus reporting on the issues that matter most within their sectors, to address their shared challenges on sustainable development. With 40 sectors identified, standards for coal, mining, agriculture, aquaculture and fishing are already under development.
With the most significant change since the GRI Standards launched in 2016, the revised Universal Standards set a new global benchmark for corporate transparency. Fully addressing gaps between the available disclosure frameworks and intergovernmental expectations for responsible business, including human rights reporting, they will enable more effective and comprehensive reporting than ever before. Built around the concepts of impact, material topics, due diligence and stakeholder engagement, these updates make it clear how companies can provide transparency and accountability in what they report. We are providing them with the tools to demonstrate understanding of their impacts and respond to the information demands of their stakeholders, including investors, governments, and civil society.”Judy Kuszewski, Chair of GRI’s independent Global Sustainability Standard’s Board
Transparency is a great enabler for change, which is why improved and widespread reporting by companies on their human rights impacts is essential. That is why, as a member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and with 20 years as a strong supporter of GRI, I welcome that the GRI Standards are now aligned with the UN Guiding Principles. We need the right tools to speed up and scale up implementation of the Guiding Principles, therefore I encourage all companies to apply the Universal Standards, demonstrating how they are fulfilling their responsibility to respect human rights.”Dante Pesce, Member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
We have moved beyond the traditional social and environmental compliance models. Applying risk-based due diligence approach across all major areas of business ethics – not just for human rights but to environmental impacts and corruption as well – is the best way for business to ensure that risks are identified, avoided or addressed effectively. After working together for years, we are excited that the new GRI Universal Standards seeks to align with OECD standards of responsible business conduct, which reflect global best practices and will enable meaningful, consistent and globally coherent corporate reporting on non-financial risk.”Alan Jorgenson, Head of the OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct
This is an important and timely update to GRI’s Universal Standards. Investors are looking beyond enterprise value and also seeking to contribute to real-world outcomes and sustainability goals, including an increasing focus on human rights. This means that investors need information on a company's wider impacts on society and the environment. The GRI Standards play an important role by elevating impact information on to an equal footing with financial reporting while efforts toward a global reporting solution are ongoing.”Morgan Slebos, Director, Sustainable Markets with UN-PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment)
For business it is of crucial importance that reporting standards are up-to-date and aligned to the main frameworks on responsible business conduct. Coherence between tools, standards and guidance documents is key to promote transparency. A robust multi-stakeholder process in the review and update of the GRI Universal Standards is the success factor of GRI, and is the basis for the legitimacy and credibility of the GRI Universal Standards.”Matthias Thorns, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Employers
The GRI’s major revision of the Universal Standards to centralise human rights, including labor rights, based on UN and ILO standards is both critical and welcomed. Along with the reporting framework for environmental standards and transparent governance, GRI is well positioned to be the benchmark for expanding mandates of due diligence and sustainability reporting.”Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation
GRI’s new Universal Standards mark a critical alignment with international standards. In line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the new standards make clear that all companies should be able to explain how they identify severe risks to people connected with their business and what they are doing to address them. This is an important step forwards in corporate reporting.”Caroline Rees, President of Shift, the center of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles
Rigorous and detailed disclosure from companies is a crucial tool for investors and other stakeholders to hold corporations accountable. We welcome GRI’s updated Universal Standards, given their significance in providing investors with more transparency, through consistent and comparable reporting on sustainability impacts. In particular, these globally adopted standards provide an important way for investors to evaluate and demand information from companies on how they approach their responsibility to conduct human rights due diligence pursuant to the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines."Josh Zinner, CEO of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
The Universal Standards 2021 are freely available for download and come into effect for reporting from 1 January 2023, with early adoption encouraged.
They comprise three Standards:
GRI 1: Foundation (to replace GRI 101: 2016): introduces the purpose and system of GRI reporting, setting the key concepts, requirements and principles that all organizations must comply with to report in accordance with the GRI Standards.
GRI 2: General Disclosures (to replace GRI 102: 2016): updated and consolidated disclosures on: reporting practices; activities and workers; governance; strategy, policies and practices; and stakeholder engagement.
GRI 3: Material Topics (to replace GRI 103: 2016): now delivers step-by-step guidance and revised disclosures on how the organization determines, lists and manages each of its material topics.
A new online course on the GRI Academy – Transitioning to the GRI Standards 2021 Update – is now ready, which is the first in a series of new training and tools to be provided in the coming months.
The revised Universal Standards fully align with authoritative instruments, enabling reporting that adheres to: the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct; ILO International Labor standards; and ICGN Global Governance Principles.
The revisions to the Universal Standards were subject to a public comment period in 2020, providing stakeholders with an opportunity to input to the proposed changes. They complete phase one of the review of GRI’s human rights related disclosures, which is based on the recommendations of a multi-stakeholder technical committee.