Five on Friday – Five Recent Developments that We’ve Been Watching Closely

iStock_000011057325XSmallIt’s Friday and time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.

This week’s post includes: Apple’s refusal to comply with a federal court order; a new report highlighting the most pressing business and human rights challenges facing companies today; and an evaluation of corporate compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.

  • Apple made headlines this week when it announced that it would not comply with a federal court order requiring the company to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. In a world in which we generally want companies to comply with the law, Apple’s action highlights the challenges faced by technology companies seeking to navigate the tensions between government demands made in the name of national security and the privacy rights of users. Companies rely on the trust of their customers and technology companies are increasingly finding that they need to engage proactively in difficult public policy debates in order to maintain that trust.
  • Verisk Maplecroft, a risk advisory firm, released its Human Rights Outlook 2016 report, which analyses what it believes will be the 10 most significant human rights issues impacting business in the coming year. Key risks include: exploitation of migrant workers in corporate supply chains; mandatory reporting on human rights due diligence efforts; and increased expectations regarding the traceability of product components through the supply chain.
  • Development International recently announced that it would publish its scorecards for the 1,504 corporate disclosures that it evaluated in its Corporate Compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 report, released in November 2015. The public scorecards will provide company-specific information regarding how the authors assessed compliance with the statute according to the “compliance-based” criteria that they derived from the statute’s disclosure requirements. The corporate scorecards are reflective of the “private” enforcement pressures on companies required to comply with new transparency statutes and regulations.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) were formally adopted at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. In January 2016, a group of business leaders launched the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development to support business efforts to achieve the SDGs. In February, Professor John Ruggie, the former U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, published a letter to the leadership of the Global Commission cautioning the business community not to let the pursuit of social development initiatives substitute for the adoption of measures intended to identify and mitigate the adverse human rights of business activity. In the letter, which was widely circulated, he observed that “[t]oo many companies today put resources into social development initiatives that are worthy on their face, while ignoring serious negative impacts on people in their own operations and value chains.”
  • In early February, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil releasedRSPO NEXT,” a set of voluntary add-on criteria for its existing Principles and Criteria. RSPO NEXT expands upon RSPO’s existing human rights criteria with new indicators specific to land use, community consultation, and working conditions and wages. RSPO member companies — which include palm oil growers, processors, traders, and consumer goods companies that utilize palm oil — can chose to incorporate the new indicators into their third-party verification processes.

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