What does “human rights” mean in the context of the modern workplace and how are emerging technologies changing the ways that businesses understand and meet these human rights responsibilities to ensure that no one gets left behind?
Global Compact Network Canada aimed to answer these questions and more during the inaugural session of its five-part webinar series, “The 4th Industrial Revolution and Human Rights: Doing Business Responsibly in the New Era”, which was moderated by Ayman Chowdhury, Global Compact Network Canada’s Head of Secretariat, and featured Julie Garfieldt Kofoed, Head of Human Rights at UN Global Compact, Dominic Channer, Vice-President Community Relations at Kinross Gold Corporation, and Abiola Okpechi, Subject Matter Expert, Business & Human Rights at Assent Compliance.
Over the last year, we have witnessed widening inequalities and gaps across the globe thus accelerating the pace of the 4th Industrial Revolution and making it an imperative to revisit human rights considerations in light of the impact of the pandemic. “Building back better”, the United Nations’ and Government of Canada’s mantra for post-COVID-19 recovery, involves creating more equal and inclusive economies and societies; Julie Garfieldt Kofoed noted that for the business world, this means lifting up the most vulnerable people across the value chain and respecting their human rights.
Dominic Channer shared meaningful insight from the perspective of Kinross Gold. Automation, innovation, and other technological advancements have been changing the nature of jobs in the mining industry for years, but Dominic demonstrated that companies can navigate these complexities more successfully when they have a well-developed purpose and set of values that prioritize positive impact and mitigate risk. Examples include: programs to upskill workers; having a human rights policy, a whistleblower policy, and a grievance mechanism in place; ensuring products meet the demands of a modern, diverse workforce; etc.
While technology and innovation can perpetuate greater inequalities, Abiola Okpechi explained that they can also be used to close these gaps and work to the advantage of companies, suppliers, and workers. Companies can use technology to collect data safety and securely, and identify strengths and risks in their supply chain. Suppliers can also use technology to automate the due diligence processes and prevent supplier fatigue. Individual workers can benefit from technology like phone apps that allow them to confidentially disclose information to third parties related to their working environment.
Although technology can help companies conduct due diligence processes, it can still be an overwhelming endeavor. According to Julie Garfieldt Kofoed, the biggest challenge that companies face is “moving from aspiration to action”. While the vast majority of companies have human rights policies in place, most do not conduct risk or impact assessments because they lack the tools, knowledge, or resources to do so. This can be especially difficult for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but every company must start somewhere. Recognizing that human rights impacts all facets of a business is the first step, and then companies can address salient issues or zero in on one element (e.g. labour or supply chain) as they work towards mapping their entire business.
Companies are not alone: Dominic Channer reminded business leaders that they aren’t expected to change the world by themselves, but they do have a responsibility to take action in their sphere of influence. The UN Global Compact will help companies in this respect by debuting a new human rights and business e-learning tool during the Leaders Summit on June 16, 2021 which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.
Global Compact Network Canada will be holding the next iteration of the “Paving the Way for Responsible Business Conduct in the Decade of Action” webinar series, entitled Respecting Labour Rights: Business Leaders and the Changing Landscape of Decent Work, on May 13th – register here.