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

It’s Friday iStock_000011057325XSmalland time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.

This week’s post includes: IHRB’s annual list of the Top 10 business and human rights issues for the coming year; the latest benchmarking report from Know the Chain focused on apparel and footwear companies; and the release of a reference annex to the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers.

  • On December 10, the Institute for Human Rights and Business (“IHRB”) released its annual list of “Top 10” business and human rights issues for the coming year. Issues identified on the list include: addressing rising economic inequality; upholding international standards in global supply chains; protecting the rights of a growing international refugee population, including providing employment opportunities for refugees; determining how best to ensure informed consent, especially with regard to the use of personal data collected by companies in a variety of sectors; and protecting the rights of workers in the construction/infrastructure sector. In releasing this list for the coming year, IHRB observed that “[t]he human rights challenges expected in 2017 reflect a stark shift in social, political and economic drivers at the global level.”
  • On December 8, Know the Chain published its third benchmarking report, which ranked 20 of the largest apparel & footwear companies on their efforts to address forced labor in their supply chains.  Indicators used in the benchmarking included: whether companies have supply chain standards that require suppliers to uphold workers’ fundamental rights and freedoms (as articulated in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work); corporate processes to assess forced labor risks associated with specific commodities, regions, and/or groups; and the extent to which companies have corrective action plans for non-compliant suppliers and processes to provide remedies to workers who are victims of forced labor.  Notably, Know the Chain found that companies generally received the lowest scores with regard to efforts to address abusive practices of recruitment agencies and to eliminate recruitment fees. Companies that scored the highest in the initial report include Adidas AG, Gap Inc., and Hennes & Mauritz.
  • In late November, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (“CHRB”) announced that it would release its initial pilot rankings on March 13, 2017.  As previously discussed, the CHRB will rank 100 companies on their human rights performance as part of an initial pilot. The companies chosen for the pilot include members of the extractive, apparel, and agricultural sectors. Companies will be assessed in the following areas: governance and policy; systems and processes; performance; responses to allegations; and transparency. Ultimately, the CHRB intends to rank the top 500 globally listed companies.
  • In early November, the International Bar Association (“IBA”) released a Reference Annex to the IBA Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyerswhich was released earlier this year. Noting that “the potential implications of the [U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] for the legal profession are far-reaching” and that “[t]heir implementation will require considerable capacity and knowledge-building,” the annex and the guide are intended to promote understanding within the business law community regarding the Guiding Principles and their implications for lawyers advising clients on how to mitigate or avoid involvement in adverse human rights impacts. At the time of the annex’s release, IBA President David Rivkin observed that the annex “takes a complex, emerging area for the profession and breaks it down in terms that are easily understood, without losing sight of the nuances. It helps to demystify the subject of human rights for practical business lawyers[.]”
  • On December 15, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre released its latest corporate legal accountability bulletin. The bulletin focuses on potential legal remedies for those impacted by the transboundary haze and air pollution caused by fires set to clear land for palm oil plantations and other agribusiness in Indonesia. It also notes the recent announcement by the International Criminal Court that it will start to focus on environmental crimes and suggests that international courts could provide one path to remedy for those impacted by the fires. Finally, the bulletin provides updates on cases filed against companies in a wide range of countries, including the United States, Egypt, Thailand, Colombia, and Canada.

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