The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) will publish the first ever human rights performance ranking of the world's largest publicly listed companies in November 2016.
The CHRB has now begun its pilot benchmark process, which will rank the top 100 companies in the agricultural products, apparel, and extractive industries using a methodology developed over two years and in consultation with over 400 companies, industry associations, investors, governments, civil society representatives, academics and lawyers. The companies to be ranked come from the USA, Britain, Thailand, China, Brazil, France and India, among others, with the largest portion being extractives industry companies.
The CHRB was set up by a steering committee of six organisations: Aviva Investors, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), Calvert Investments, Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), VBDO and research provider Vigeo Eiris.
CHRB Objectives and Expected Impacts
Positive competitive environment
Incorporate social ‘costs’ into capital allocation decisions
Challenge poorly performing companies
CHRB Expected Impacts
Investors better equipped
Civil society, workers, communities, customers and consumers empowered
Policy-makers and regulators will have objective means of assessment
As the report says: “A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that of 853 senior corporate executives surveyed on which interventions could best enable them to meet their human rights responsibilities, the top choice was a public benchmark on companies’ human rights performance.” In addition, the report notes that there has been a market failure to assess human rights risk: “Markets are not routinely promoting corporate human rights responsibility or innovation by allocating capital, through investment decisions, media scrutiny, regulation and advocacy to companies that are managing their human rights risks and impacts well. Because of this, most companies have no reason to account for their social ‘costs’—their impacts on human rights. As a consequence, capital is being misallocated….” This means that companies which impose the costs of their negative impacts onto “workers, communities, and local governments” can raise capital as cheaply as their more responsible peers, which results in them being more rather than less competitive.
As can be seen from the image below, the comprehensive scoring system is weighted. In addition, within the topics, issues are broken down into at least two further granular levels. For example, governance and policy commitments are broken down into: policy commitments & board level accountability. Embedding respect and human rights due diligence is broken down into: embedding respect for human rights in company culture & management systems and human rights due diligence. Within the three industries covered in this first iteration—agricultural products, apparel and extractives—the issues looked at vary by industry, but include:
Freedom of association and collective bargaining
Health and safety
Water and sanitation
As the report warns, assessment can only be “[a]s precise as the information released by the companies….” Some elements will be initially excluded such as geography, positive impacts and consumption of products and services. Following this first iteration, the first expansion will broaden coverage to the Heavy Manufacturing and Engineering, ICT and Electronics, and Light Manufacturing industries, while the second expansion will broaden to include Finance, Pharmaceutical and Service industries.
CHRB Topics and Weightings
There will be an annual research cycle that will include company engagement, as well as a three-year methodology review. There is an incredible amount of detail on the scoring methodology, linking each ranking datapoint to a maze of global reporting standards that allows for an in-depth assessment of how it might work.
The initiative is being supported by an investor group representing $4.8 trillion of assets including lead investor Boston Common Asset Management, APG Asset Management, Aviva Investors, Church of Sweden, BNP Paribas Investment Partners, Hermes Equity Ownership Services and Domini Social Investments. In a recent article, Lauren Compere, head of responsible investment at Boston Common, noted the February 2015 investor statement in support of the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework – one of the frameworks for corporate disclosure on human rights that is being used by the CHRB. The signatories of this statement make up the supporting investor group. “One of the drivers for this investor action,” said Compere, “is the growing risk of reputational damage to investors themselves if their risk management and due diligence procedures for assessing human rights risk are perceived to be weak.”
Elsewhere, according to the World Federation of Exchanges’ second global ESG survey, more than 90 percent of exchanges which responded to the survey have an ESG or sustainability programme in place. These include education initiatives for issuers and/or investors as well as products such as ‘green bonds’. Almost all respondents believe the long-term sustainability of listed companies is key and that they should participate in developing better ESG reporting metrics. This will lead to the CHRB’s job of ranking becoming more likely.
In yet more initiatives on setting sustainability targets, a new UK parliament research briefing has announced that the International Development Committee is working on a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). Each of these will be supported by a number of targets and draft global indicators, though it will be up to individual countries to decide how these will be adapted to fit local circumstances. The research briefing continues: “The UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) has agreed on a global indicator framework for the SDGs which the UK Government has welcomed.” It points users to a dedicated UN Sustainable Development Goals indicator website. In addition, the Office of National Statistics is working with UK Stakeholders in Sustainable Development “to gather evidence on how stakeholders in the UK think that the country should report progress on the SDGs.”
While all these initiatives should be welcomed, the sheer number of them has the potential to be overwhelming unless coordinated at the very highest level.