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SPOTLIGHT ON THE UNWG ON BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
01 July 2015
Photo credit: kzenon/Thinkstock 2015

​With the issuance of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) in 2011, the responsibilities of companies and states in regards to human rights were finally officially recognized. As a result, companies now have a better understanding of their responsibilities vis-à-vis human rights, which they can consequently incorporate into their reporting processes. By doing so, companies are also adhering to Principle 21 of the UNGP, which promotes the communication and reporting of adverse impacts of businesses on human rights.

Since its creation in 2011, the United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (Working Group), composed of five independent experts, has monitored the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Each year, the Working Group focuses on topics that also serve as the themes for the Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. This year, among other topics, the Working Group will focus on the means to measure and report progress in the implementation of the UNGP as well as the National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights to implement the UNGP.

GRI has collaborated with the Working Group in the past and supports the work it undertakes. As early as 2011, GRI integrated references to the UNGP in its sustainability reporting guidelines (then G3.1) and, in 2013, engrained them in the human rights section of G4 and in other sections related to labor, suppliers and society This has allowed the thousands of companies that already use GRI for their sustainability reporting to have a process and a framework to identify and report on human rights related impacts in their operations and supply chains and ensured they observed the UNGP. The reporting process consequently contributes to companies’ transparency and accountability for these impacts, which are essential to foster positive change in corporate behavior. According to Dante Pesce, newly appointed member of the Working Group: “Transparency and accountability are key values to drive responsible business practices, including, naturally, the respect for human rights. As a long standing friend of GRI, I know that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have been embedded properly into G4, which is a very practical way to push human rights into real practice.”

GRI also acknowledges the role of governments in facilitating and promoting the responsibilities of companies on human rights. Through the development of National Action Plans, governments can map existing policies and challenges related to businesses and human rights and take appropriate measures to encourage or require companies to report on how they address their impacts, as stated in Principle 3d of the UNGP. In this context, the 2014 Guidance Document on National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights developed by the Working Group invites governments to encourage companies to use already existing reporting standards such as GRI. “GRI will continue to engage with governments and the Working Group and is committed to supporting their respective efforts to enhance the private sector’s transparency on human rights,” said Teresa Fogelberg, GRI’s Deputy Chief Executive.