Firms should promote responsible business practices

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 07:05 |

By Judy Njino              

Do businesses really care for consumers and other stakeholders or do they only care because it is good for the bottomline?  

If corporate social responsibility acts are profit-driven, then businesses are merely using people as a means to maximise profits.

Where most companies seek to avoid any public association with human rights issues, some business leaders are pushing the boundaries and they want others to do the same.

The momentum behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has added fuel to this movement. It has helped companies realise that, by contributing to the achievement of human rights for all, they can play a pivotal role in creating momentum for achievement of the global goals.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, launched in 2011, offer guidelines for companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses in business operations. 

This wave of information, activity and expectations drives corporate action on human rights beyond risk management and compliance and into companies’ strategies, purpose and goals.

One of the many challenges associated with the guiding principles is their practical implementation. While theoretically, the emphasis is placed on the primary protective duty of the government to safeguard human rights, it is increasingly apparent from a practical perspective that this needs to be supplemented by private actors in many markets.

No socially responsible company wants to be associated with negative human rights issues such as discrimination, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and lack of freedom of association. Beyond managing risk, businesses that proactively invest in human rights contribute to a peaceful society and create conditions for inclusive prosperity.

Companies that respect human rights are sending a signal to consumers, investors and the public that they are a trustworthy brand and serious about sustainability. Incorporating the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact into strategies, policies and procedures, and establishing a culture of integrity, can also set the stage for long‑term success.

In the face of persistent inequalities, it is time for companies to step up their efforts to adopt and promote responsible business practices and advance the SDGs.

Responsible business leaders understand that stakeholder engagement is not just another tick-off exercise. They have taken crucial steps to engage and communicate through dialogue and partnership with all sectors, including governments and civil society organisations.

Last year, the government developed the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, the first-ever in Africa, through the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice. It is a comprehensive strategy for protecting against human rights abuses by businesses, whether private or government-owned.

The benefits of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights include fostering national dialogue, promoting progress on implementation, increasing awareness and understanding of business and human rights, as well as mobilising resources to facilitate implementation of the Action Plan.

As we enter this crucial Decade of Action for the SDGs, we should aspire to empower everyone to know and claim their rights, which is critical in building a brighter, more sustainable and more inclusive future.

— The writer is the Executive Director, Global Compact Network Kenya —[email protected].

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