Social transformation

The social transformation sits at the heart of WBA’s systems transformation model. It underpins and enables the six other systems transformations. The model recognises that while all companies should support human development through contributing to the 2030 Agenda, they must do it in a responsible way that respects the rights of workers, consumers and the wider community. For this reason, WBA will assess the 2,000 most influential companies globally (keystone companies) on a social component.

Why a social transformation?

The SDGs place people first. At their core, the SDGs  promote a people-centred agenda that envisions a world where ‘all life can thrive’ by seeking ‘to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’. For this to be possible, human rights must be respected, basic human needs met and the current societal structures that constrain people from living a self-determined life must be transformed. As such, human rights and human development should be at the core of corporate sustainability action.

To reflect this, WBA will assess the 2,000 keystone companies against a common set of core social expectations that all companies must meet. How companies perform against these expectations will have a material impact on their performance in subsequent transformation benchmarks, by weighting or limiting their final score. They will act as responsible business conduct ‘hurdles’ which companies must clear to be given credit for their contribution to the SDGs.

Further social criteria will be established within each transformation methodology, allowing for a more context specific assessment of social issues and how their management can contribute to the transformation in question. Beyond core and transformation-specific social indicators, WBA will conduct spotlight social assessments to provide deeper analysis on topics of interest in order to link high-level core social expectations with real-world performance.

The coronavirus pandemic is reinforcing the importance of responsible business conduct, including topics such as labour protections, managing impacts on workers in the supply chain and paying fair taxes to ensure governments have sufficient revenue to protect and develop their people. The context makes the development of the social indicators more relevant than ever and provides an opportunity to discuss responsible business models and the role of business in society.


WBA’s approach to the social transformation can be summarised through three types of assessment as follows:

1  Core social assessment
The 2,000 keystone companies will be assessed against a small number of sector-agnostic core social indicators that will provide a snapshot across all companies. These indicators will focus on things that all companies must do. How companies perform on the core assessment will have a material impact on their assessment under their relevant transformation benchmarks, providing a weighting or score limiting factor on subsequent assessments. This will enable WBA to quickly achieve scale. See “Core social overview” and “Core social topics” below for more details.

2 Transformation-specific social assessments
Within each of the six other transformations, companies will be assessed on additional social issues that are relevant to the transformation, as part of the transformation-specific methodology. These issues may be extensions of the core social topics, or entirely new topics. They will focus on things that companies should do to better support the delivery of the SDGs within a transformation, whether that is managing sector-specific social risks or supporting targeted interventions (for example, managing digital rights while enabling internet access in the digital transformation, or managing water and land rights while supporting smallholder farmers in the food transformation). Transformation-specific indicators will provide varying depth of social assessment within transformations and sectors. See ‘Transformation-specific social assessments’ below for more details.

3  Spotlight social assessments
Specific issues deserve deeper analysis (e.g. gender equality and women’s empowerment in the apparel industry, or a human rights benchmark in high-risk sectors). Selection of these ‘spotlight issues’ will be supported by the understanding provided by the core social assessment across the keystone companies. Conversely, spotlights will help WBA learn how to scale up elements of the core social assessment. Spotlights will also help demonstrate the utility of the core social indicators, by checking the correlation between the ‘basic but broad’ core social assessment and ‘detailed but targeted’ spotlight assessment. Spotlights will help WBA learn, remain credible, stay relevant and scale the lessons learnt. See the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) website for an insight into one of WBA’s spotlights.

Development process

The Social Transformation team published a scoping report in April 2020, setting out WBA’s proposed approach to the social transformation. The model detailed in the scoping report is open for public consultation in the June-September period and we encourage constructive engagement and feedback to improve or potentially expand the model, with an aspiration to finalise our thinking in the fourth quarter.

1  Core social assessment

The team is now developing the methodology for the core social indicators. The draft methodology will be published at the end of May 2020 and will be open for public comment until September 2020.

Following the public consultation, the team will process all submitted feedback and test the core social indicators (including as part of the Food and Agriculture Benchmark baseline assessment). The core social indicators will then be finalised, and the final methodology will be published in December 2020.

2  Transformation-specific assessments

Identifying the transformation-specific social topics and developing indicators for the other transformations will be a work in progress from 2021-2023 and will be embedded within the other transformation methodology development work.

3  Spotlight social assessments

In 2020, the Gender Benchmark baseline assessment and the fourth Corporate Human Rights Benchmark will be launched as spotlight social assessments. Once all 2,000 keystone companies have been assessed on the core social indicators, patterns of poor performance in specific areas may highlight the need for additional spotlights.


A core team at WBA is working on the Social Transformation, in close collaboration with a broad group of external stakeholders. These include investors, civil society organisations, academia and governments.

Dan Neale
Lead Social transformation

Shamistha Selvaratnam
Research Analyst


This report sets out WBA’s thinking regarding the social transformation within the wider WBA approach to benchmarking the keystone companies, and an initial proposal for how such a social assessment will be carried out.

Get involved

We will continue engaging with stakeholders, through targeted engagement and communications with key organisations and representatives. Initial plans for in-person consultations have been postponed.

In the coming months, we will invite all stakeholders to attend webinars, to give their written feedback and we will organise bilateral calls. We would very much welcome feedback from all interested parties on the proposed scope of the social transformation and the proposed core social indicator topics.

In addition, we are keen to increase the representation and voice from lower income countries and encourage interested stakeholders to support us in accessing their networks to ensure a representative consultation.

For more information on the social transformation or to provide feedback, please contact us at