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Reimagining corporate responsibility to respect human rights - Erika George

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Is it possible for corporations to prioritize profits and respect for human rights, including the right to a clean and healthy environment? Erika George thinks so, and she has the business acumen to back up her claim. George highlights what you can do today to influence the companies you choose to do business with.

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Integrating Human Rights into Business Ethics

Reimagining corporate responsibility to include respect for human rights involves transforming the fundamental principles on which businesses operate. A poignant example is the endorsement of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, which emphasize the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. This framework suggests businesses should not only avoid infringing on human rights but also address adverse impacts with which they are involved.
There are growing efforts to combat slavery in multinational corporations' supply chains like the UK Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which mandate companies to disclose their anti-slavery efforts. Corporations are increasingly conducting detailed audits of their supply chains, often involving third parties, to identify and address forced labor. They are also implementing strict supplier codes of conduct, providing training to recognize and prevent forced labor, and collaborating with NGOs, governments, and other businesses to share best practices. Additionally, there is a move towards greater transparency, with companies more frequently reporting on their supply chain practices and efforts to tackle slavery and human trafficking. These measures reflect a broader recognition of the need for ethical supply chain management and corporate responsibility in preventing modern slavery.

Environmental Stewardship as Corporate Responsibility

The expansion of corporate responsibility to encompass environmental stewardship is another critical aspect of this reimagining. The palm oil industry serves as a notable example. In response to the environmental impact and human rights violations associated with palm oil production, some companies have committed to using only sustainably sourced palm oil. However, it's important to be aware that some companies may use environmental issues as a way to improve their brand, and strategy known as greenwashing. This shift was partly driven by consumer awareness and advocacy, illustrating how corporate responsibility extends beyond profit-making to include the preservation of natural resources and the well-being of communities affected by business operations. Such initiatives not only help protect ecosystems but also ensure the long-term viability of the resources businesses depend on, embodying a holistic approach to sustainability.

Consumer Influence and Ethical Investment

Consumers play a pivotal role in driving businesses towards more humane and environmentally friendly practices. The actions of the Girl Scouts, who demanded their cookies contain sustainably produced palm oil, is a testament to the power of consumer advocacy. Similarly, the growing trend of ethical investment, where investors choose companies based on their social and environmental impact, is reshaping corporate priorities. Investment funds focusing on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are gaining popularity, encouraging businesses to adopt practices that respect human and natural rights. This shift towards ethical consumerism and investment demonstrates a growing recognition that business success and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing concepts.

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  • Speaker Erika George