The Power of Collective Investor Action to Safeguard Human Rights
We are living in a time of tremendous upheaval, with existential threats ranging from the ravages of climate change that threaten public health and global water and food supplies to an unprecedented migrant and refugee crisis provoking geo-political conflicts affecting communities around the world.
But in this time of great challenge, there are also opportunities to respond effectively. One of them is a new initiative, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, which seeks to harness the collective power of investors in the work to guard against human rights abuses. This Alliance, led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), is convening investors from around the world to use their combined influence to press companies and policymakers on human rights risks. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a global framework to help companies assess and address human rights risks in their operations and supply chains. Some companies have shown leadership in integrating these principles into their policies and practices. Most are unaware of the human rights impacts of their businesses. ICCR members file shareholder resolutions to address the gaps in corporate human rights due diligence which often lead to legal, reputational and financial consequences that affect their investments. The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark report and the KnowTheChain sector benchmark reports provide evidence of the importance of assessing corporate human rights performance for a range of stakeholders.
We need to accelerate change on business and human rights through investor action. When we issued a call to action after the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, the response was immediate. ICCR was able to amass an investor coalition representing over $4 trillion in assets to call for corporate participation in the newly formed Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The new investor initiative is a compelling indication that the broader investor community is profoundly concerned about human rights and worker rights; it provides a welcome central hub for organizing this work.
ICCR’s faith-based members have focused on human rights for decades, bringing greater corporate consciousness to these issues. Through our advocacy in partnership with NGOs and other stakeholders, we have changed the way these sectors view their workers and monitor their supply chains. Our “No Fees” initiative is bringing corporate awareness to the human rights risks inherent in the recruitment process, when workers are forced to pay for employment. Our support for key human rights legislation and regulation both in the United States and overseas makes clear to policymakers why these risks are viewed as material by the investment community and underscores the need for public policy that levels the playing field for all companies. Investor letters have been part of a ‘rapid response’ to urgent human rights threats, including attempts to eliminate the Dodd/Frank 1502, “Conflict Minerals” reporting requirements and the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua.
The Alliance is a much-needed platform to facilitate collaboration and amplify the investor voice on these critical issues. We hope you will join us.
Senior Program Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility