Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writing about Human Rights?

Writing about human rights?
The other day I attended a talk by the subcommittee on Human Rights where Corporate Social Responsibility was on the agenda and there was an exchange of views with the Head of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

This was near the end of the Belgian presidency who had, supposedly, done a lot on issue of Human Rights. At the same time however MEP Nicole Sinclaire stated that she felt that the Belgian presidency had been a "ghost presidency" who hadn't really done anything. They had however written reports.

This got me thinking about several questions. First of all, what can businesses do to aid human rights? Can they really make a difference? And finally, and most aptly, does writing about it make any difference?

The Head of GRI came to talk about the role of the UN and talked about reporting within the context of Corporate Social Responsibility. He mentioned the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on business & human rights, John Ruggie who has done a lot of work for this area. Ruggie's approach is simple and aims to offer clarity. For this, there is "The protect, respect and remedy framework". This is pretty much self explanatory except I will add that the remedy framework does refer to access to justice.

There were a lot of buzzwords thrown about and there was a lot of talk about writing reports. Now I have to admit I shared the scepticism of many others who wonder if this is all just hot air.
He went on to say though that they needed reports to convey information to stakeholders - perhaps to ensure that everyone is on board. In addition, he stated that many business leaders still struggle with the concept of corporate social responsibility and this is why reporting helps. On the one hand reports are there to measure the impact or effect of businesses using data and information. Evidently this also goes beyond a simply financial analysis of a business. More importantly he stated "reporting has an upstream effect". That's to say that the process helps management get on board and stay on board because it leaves them open to public scrutiny.
I have to say that, now I've stopped university and started writing this blog I also have to agree. I agree in the way that having to put pen to paper was and still is a very powerful tool. Years ago you would put quill to ink to paper, then there was the printing press, now we have screens and clever little computers to spread the word.

They all boil down to the same however and I believe I am more than ever starting to understand their strength. It's not only about writing a message it's about having the commitment to write that message down and lay your feelings bare. In addition, having to write about something is still I believe the best way to really scrutinise and understand a subject. That's why lecturers still have to publish work even though they are teachers. That's why you have to write a dissertation at university and that's why reports are indeed an essential part of human development and indeed the development of human rights.

So have a look out for John Ruggie and look out for the reports of businesses containing the new buzzword "corporate social responsibility".