Reframing Labor, Human Rights In The Supply Chain & Sustained Company Performance Conference Recap

July 8, 2016 EcoVadis

Insights from experts, key lessons and best practices

human rights, labour rights

The recent Skytop Strategies conference on Reframing Labor, Human Rights and Sustained Company Performance at Bard College in New York convened professionals and academics from a diverse range of organizations for a discussion on labor and human rights in the private sector. Representatives included experts from EcoVadis. Gordon Bradshaw (CSR Analyst) and Daniel Perry (Account Executive) attended the event and have captured and summarized their notes and takeaways. Topics ranged from investments in supply chain, business case, regulation, reputation impacts, and maximizing use of new software and technology solutions.

Despite the breadth of the topic under consideration and the variety of the participants, a clear narrative emerged; outlining challenges, untapped potential, and emerging trends and best practices. The participants widely agreed that the social element of corporate social responsibility is underdeveloped; particularly in comparison with environmental aspects.

Throughout the conference, the discussion returned several times to this disparity. Why is corporate handling of labor and human rights less mature, and seemingly more difficult to integrate into business operations?

According to several panelists, the answer is not altogether complex. This is simply a harder place to build value. Addressing environmental issues not only addresses risks, but also often leads to cost cutting and revenue creation. Labor and human rights concerns, on the other hand, are generally focused on risk alone.

The second panel of the day “The Gamut of Human Rights-Related Risks: The Business Case for Company Management” discussed business drivers such as brand/reputation, employee expectations, building community relationships, ethical responsibility. As one panelist pointed out, an executive will take a dollar (or Euro) of revenue over a dollar of risk mitigation every time. The key barriers is how to elevate human rights up the ladder of priorities “above the noise” on their agenda, .
The business drivers for social sustainability are certainly there, however, they are often ambiguous. They must be redefined and continuously stressed if they are to move up the agenda of decision makers in the private sector. Panelists in the fifth panel “Risks & Opportunities for Company Reputation, Shareholder Value & Customer Loyalty” agreed that when this happens, with smart and sustained efforts, companies can move from a ‘risk phase’ to an ‘opportunity phase’ with social issues in the supply chain.

Achieving this requires moving beyond audits and other compliance checks into management system assessment and capacity building and collaboration (panel 9). Some of these methods are beginning to proliferate as businesses take on more effective, systematic, approaches; moving from projects to programs, and from reactive to proactive strategies. These promising trends are likely to continue; particularly as government ‘ownership’ of social issues in the private sector remains low. As one panelist observed, stakeholder demand for CSR action and government engagement with the issues are inversely correlated.

It was agreed that businesses and government both have a large part to play in driving social improvements (panel 8). However, the participants on the day, regardless of affiliation, stressed their belief that it is the private sector’s obligation to take up this mantle of responsibility and execute much needed change.

However, the participants on the day, regardless of affiliation, stressed their belief that it is the private sector’s obligation to take up this mantle of responsibility and execute much needed change.
We are entering a post-audit focused era. To create lasting change will require pro-active efforts such as CSR management system assessment, capacity building and continuous monitoring.

Reporting for this post by
Gordon Bradshaw, CSR Analyst at EcoVadis

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