The accountant’s role in human rights due diligence


Ask:

  • Has the organisation made a public commitment to respecting human rights? This may take the form of a human rights policy or the inclusion of a human rights statement within its policies on sustainability, corporate responsibility, or other matters.
  • Has the organisation signed up to a responsible business standard or initiative that includes a commitment to observing human rights, such as the UN Global Compact?
  • Has the organisation signed up to a sectoral initiative that has its own responsible business standard, including a commitment to observing human rights, such as the International Council on Mining and Metals?
  • Has the organisation's HR function developed systems to monitor issues such as gender equality in the workplace or beyond?
  • Is the procurement function aware of any requirements for companies to respect human rights? Or does it undertake human rights due diligence?
  • How does the internal communications function share messages and help embed practices on the companies' position, policies, and processes relating to respect for human rights?

Keep apprised of:

  • Changes in the regulatory landscape concerning business and human rights-related issues.
  • Developments in the business and human rights field regarding business reporting and performance, such as the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, and the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks.

Review:

  • Strategic priorities that may adversely impact the human rights of stakeholders. If these are not apparent, make the case for considering how the company will address and manage its impact on the human rights of its stakeholders as one of the business's ongoing strategic objectives.
  • Potential or actual human rights risks to the company, or impacts on stakeholders.
  • Reports addressing human rights risks related to relevant aspects of the organisation's business. Determine how they may affect the organisation's financial position.
  • Contracts. Look for opportunities to insert the organisation's human rights responsibilities into contracts with third-party partners. The wording should unequivocally state the organisation's commitment to upholding respect for internationally recognised human rights. Elaborate on how the organisation conducts its business and convey to third parties the need for them to adhere to the contract.
  • Insurance policies. Seek clauses that have a crossover with human rights impacts. If the wording is vague, consider asking the insurer to include clauses that safeguard the organisation's activities, actions, or relationships with respect to human rights. Alternatively, ask for the wording to be strengthened to ensure that your organisation is covered regarding any violation of human rights.

Be alert to:

  • Existing or legacy human rights issues in any merger, acquisition, or divestiture prospect, or related partnership. If these are not apparent, ensure that the due-diligence process includes consideration of existing or legacy human rights issues.

Ensure:

  • That business development teams thoroughly assess the human rights situations in countries where the company may be embarking on a merger, acquisition, or other investment.
  • That, when placing orders, the buying function considers the organisation's responsibility to respect the human rights of its suppliers and associated contractors.

Consider:

  • Adding human rights risks into existing risk-management processes.
  • Adding human rights impacts by stakeholder into existing risk registers.
  • Developing KPIs that will help the company measure and track how it respects human rights and does not adversely impact the rights of stakeholders.

Work with related business functions to:

  • Develop relevant KPIs that will help the organisation determine how it respects human rights in all of its activities.
  • Establish the company's management-reporting systems addressing non-financial issues such as human rights.
  • Develop appropriate non-financial KPIs that relate to the relevant business functions' interaction with human rights issues.
  • Improve understanding and awareness of relevant processes and policies, particularly for the functions that are most affected.

Allocate funding for:

  • Human rights country-risk analysis. This may be carried out internally, if there is appropriate in-house human rights expertise, or via an independent consultant.
  • Stakeholder engagement, which may be needed to ascertain that a project or operation is not adversely impacting stakeholders' rights.
  • A third-party human rights impact assessment examining an organisation's adverse impacts on the human rights of its stakeholders, which requires specialist expertise and skills.
  • Remediation and reparation. Ring-fence funds for corrective actions that may need to be addressed and for situations that could potentially trigger a reparation or compensation claim.
  • Learning and development. Your business may benefit from engaging with organisations that consider and address business and human rights issues and offer peer-to-peer learning opportunities.
  • Training. Ensure that relevant employees understand that concern for human rights is an important commitment of the company.
  • Specialist advice. Consult an individual or group of people that is experienced and knowledgeable about business and human rights, enabling you to confidently identify human rights risks and potential impacts to the business.

Challenge:

  • Information and data compiled by business functions such as the corporate responsibility or sustainability teams. Ensure that these data effectively identify the organisation's human rights risks and impacts associated with its business.
  • Action plans drafted by relevant teams. Discuss solutions with them to ensure that the agreed approaches are cost-effective and meet the needs of the affected stakeholders.

Revisit:

  • Human rights-related policies, processes, and systems that have been developed and implemented; ascertain their effectiveness and make all appropriate adjustments.

More guidance

For additional best practices on human rights issues in the supply chain, see the CGMA briefing Business and Human Rights: Evolution and Acceptance.