‘No Scope for Complacency’ as Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Reveals 2017 Findings

By Moe Myint 15 March 2017

RANGOON – The London-based Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) launched a 2017 survey of international businesses revealing which firms are leading in 100 human rights indicators.

The survey was conducted among 98 companies—many of which operate in Burma—and looked into practices in three industries: agricultural products, apparel, and extractives. It intended to measure participating businesses’ levels of transparency, policies, systems of governance, human rights practices, and responses to allegations of violations.

The CHRB assesses companies’ commitment to meeting United Nations (UN) guidance on respecting human rights within business practices. The initiative is integrated with eight international organizations, including Asset Management, Aviva Investors, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Calvert Investments, the EIRIS Foundation, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, Nordea Wealth Management and the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development.

Surveying began in March 2016 and fact sheets from the relevant companies were analyzed before the research was released this month.

According to CHRB’s survey, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto demonstrated the best performance with regards to human rights within the extractive industry. Marks and Spencer Group, Unilever and Nestle were regarded as the top three companies in the agriculture product sector, and Marks and Spencer and Adidas earned the same distinction in the clothing and apparel industry.

Yet those recognized above as industry leaders only scored between 50 and 69 percent in meeting 100 human rights benchmarks.

Earning the lowest scores on human rights indicators—less than 10 percent—were Yum!—which includes fast food chain KFC, now operating in Rangoon—and Costco Wholesale in the agricultural products industry. Again, Costco Wholesale, and Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Ross Stores and received this distinction in the apparel industry, and Grupo Mexico, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, China Petroleum and Chemical and Coal India and received the lowest rankings in the extractive industry.

The CHRB claims that the average score, across the three industries, was less than 30 percent. “There are still plenty of challenges that need to be overcome,” Steve Waygood, of Aviva Investors, stated in the report. There is “no scope for complacency,” he said, adding that “it is clear that some [companies] are trying much harder than others and we have identified clear leaders and laggards.”

Myanmar Center for Responsible Business’s director Vicky Bowman said that the CHRB survey serves as test as to whether foreign conglomerates in Burma are following UN principles.

“This is looking at global behavior,” she pointed out, adding that one surprise she encountered in the survey results was how “companies like Coca Cola, Heineken and Shell have actually done a lot of human rights due diligence and [created] human rights policy.” Yet these companies were not listed in the top three in the CHRB’s findings.

In their press release in response to the survey, the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business stated that in their experience, “some of the companies which don’t score so highly in the Benchmark because they don’t have [strong frameworks for respecting human rights in business] in place company-wide have to adopt more human rights-sensitive market entry strategies for Myanmar.”

“Good human rights practice for companies is to ‘know and show,’” Bowman explained to The Irrawaddy. “However those companies that seek to ‘know,’—i.e. do human rights risk assessments in high risk countries—generally will only report—i.e. ‘show’—that they have undertaken human rights due diligence, perhaps with a short summary of key risks they have identified.”

The Irrawaddy contacted the Heineken Co., which is affiliated with the Alliance Brewery Co., on Wednesday afternoon. One of the senior staff declined to comment on the CHRB survey, and said that they were not aware of its findings. They re-directed questions on the matter to the head office based in the Netherlands. The Coca-Cola company’s communications officer did not respond to multiple phone calls.

The CHRB is expected to continue its regular survey in 2018, and expand to 500 worldwide companies.

This article has been updated to reflect comments on the CHRB survey made by the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business and its director, Vicky Bowman.