Avoiding ‘SDG Washing’: Human Rights in SDG Benchmarks

Why we align – An alignment of key principles and aspirations connects the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) as an ally with the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA). We believe in the need to ignite market competition and push a race to the top in responsible business practices. The recent WBA consultations confirmed our shared values including the importance of transparency and consultation; publicly available data and clear methodologies; legitimacy from a wide range of stakeholders and independence from benchmarked companies. We also share people: Aviva is a founding member of both WBA and CHRB, the Executive Director of the WBA Secretariat is a CHRB Director, while two WBA allies (Nordea and the Eiris Foundation) are Members of the CHRB. Lastly, we are also part of the wider benchmarking family, with a strong belief in the ability of benchmarks to drive changes in behaviours through more evidence based engagement and advocacy, as well as through more transparent and higher quality benchmarks that catalyse participation from investors, governments, civil society and consumers.

How we contribute – We aim to contribute to the WBA in two main areas; human rights and general benchmarking. The CHRB methodology is grounded in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), with a focus on assessing companies’ understanding, prevention, mitigation and remedy of adverse human rights impacts. We see the CHRB methodology as almost a ‘pre-qualifier’, where companies must have the basics in place (the UNGPs), before they can get credit for efforts elsewhere. In other words, our alliance is important as together we can help avoid accusations of ‘SDG-washing’, where companies parade their ‘positive impacts’ without having appropriate human rights due diligence in place to understand and manage their negative impacts.

The launch of our Benchmark in 2017 assessed almost 100 of the biggest agriculture, apparel and extractives industries against their human rights performance. With an average score of less than 30%, it’s clear there is still a long way to go and we hope to support change through our benchmark. It took 4 years of effort and multi-stakeholder consultations to get to this point and we will bring all our experience to help the WBA as it begins its own process of developing benchmarks.

Looking to the future – Our findings highlighted that without any consistent global legislative approaches to embedding respect for human rights in business, real change will only arise if adequate pressure is brought to bear on those companies not meeting the grade. CHRB has made a strong case for the utility of benchmarks (in helping to drive change) and the validity of the WBA’s approach. By ensuring that the fundamentals (respect for human rights) are not neglected, the WBA can take an approach that will allow anyone to quickly compare how companies are doing regarding human rights and development. This will enable them to make informed choices that should push those companies towards better behaviours, towards a world where everyone is able to enjoy their fundamental rights.

Daniel Neale
Programme Director, CHRB


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