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Welcome to the blog of Measuring Business & Human Rights (MB&HR), a research project that aims to advance the capacity of business managers and corporate stakeholders to assess the extent to which companies meet their responsibility to respect human rights.

While business and human rights metrics, ratings and indices have proliferated in the past few years (for a representative list of sustainability initiatives featuring business and human rights indicators, click here), measuring respect for human rights by corporations is not an easy task. The purpose of this blog is to provide a public space where all interested parties (from corporate managers to human rights activists, from academics to investors) can identify the most pressing challenges in the production of business and human rights measures and collaboratively come up with practical solutions.

The blog hosts contributions (and facilitate constructive discussion) on both general issues, such as the problem of data unavailability and the risks related to human rights quantification, and specific initiatives, such as the weaknesses of impact indicators and the strengths of the Access to Medicine Index.

For more information about MB&HR, please visit our webpage or keep on reading.

Why Measuring Business & Human Rights?

In 2011 the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs), the first authoritative collection of norms on how corporations should meet their responsibility to respect human rights. Since then, key elements of the GPs have been internalized by a large variety of international players, including international organizations, standard-setting bodies, governments, multi-stakeholder initiatives, civil society organizations and business enterprises themselves.

This unprecedented convergence around a common set of standards has triggered a proliferation of initiatives dedicated to measure whether and how much corporations are meeting their responsibility to respect human rights. Business and human rights indicators have been included into management tools (e.g. the Human Rights Compliance Assessment tool of the Danish Institute for Human Rights), reporting standards (e.g. the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines), sustainable investment indices (e.g. Dow Jones Sustainability Indices), working methodologies used by providers of information on corporate performance with respect to environmental, social and governance issues (e.g. Sustainalytics), multi-stakeholder initiatives’ audit schemes (e.g. the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights) and ethical ratings (e.g. Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Scorecard).

Indicators have thus taken centre stage as one of the most promising, but also controversial, developments in the business and human rights field. On the one hand, the promise of indicators lies in their potential for simplification, aggregation and, ultimately, comparability (over time and across companies). Business and human rights indicators can be useful for:

  • corporations that are expected to track their progress in implementing the GPs;
  • responsible investors and consumers who wish to identify and reward respectful businesses;
  • auditors who are asked to verify corporate human rights policies and due diligence processes;
  • governments willing to adopt evidence-based policies and regulations;
  • local communities interested in the general human rights footprint of the companies operating in their environs.

On the other hand, business and human rights indicators risk producing invalid results and non-emancipatory effects. By simplifying and standardising inevitably partial information, indicators often produce a misleading picture of corporate human rights behaviour. In addition, the creation and use of indicators currently disempower potential human rights victims and legitimate centres of power (such as the Human Rights Council and national Parliaments) at the expenses of distant statistics experts located in Corporate Social Responsibility departments or Economic, Social and Governance research providers.

MB&HR is a research project that takes these concerns seriously. The project will:

  • explore the most pressing normative, methodological, practical and political challenges when producing business and human rights indicators, and suggest realistic strategies to create valid measurement tools;
  • offer a transparent and comprehensive database of information on existing organizations, tools and initiatives using business and human rights indicators;
  • host a blog as a public forum for an open discussion on how to improve the way corporate respect for human rights is measured.

The creation of any indicator requires taking specific normative and methodological choices. In addition, it risks producing indirect adverse human rights consequences. Unfortunately, these choices and risks are rarely, if ever, articulated. The purpose of this blog is to bring these issues to light and get the debate going.

Business and human rights indicators operationalise the corporate responsibility to respect for human rights and often drive corporate behaviour more than high-level norms such as the GPs. The stakes are too high not to have a public, transparent and informed discussion about their proliferation.