Tag Archives: human rights

What more can be done about human trafficking: a lot more

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This is my speech to the Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Doha, Qatar, 14 April 2015

(reproduced with kind permission of the Institute for Human Rights and Business)

Global supply chains are powerful. They are fundamental to the global economy. If we accept that there is about $60 trillion in the global economy, then according to UNCTAD, about $6 trillion of this (i.e. 10%) is in intermediate products – i.e. goods that require a global brand or other buyer before being sold on the open market. South-South trade is growing significantly, but South-North supply chains are still twice as dominant in financial terms. They are also an increasingly important part of the global labour market with hundreds of millions of workers directly or indirectly involved. Tens of millions of these workers are low-skilled migrants – either within their own country or across international borders – and many of these workers can be vulnerable to exploitation through debt bondage, fraud, withholding of ID documents, non-payment of wages, and a host of other abuses.

Business has a critical role to play in the fight against smuggling of migrants, forced labour and trafficking of workers into the formal economy. According to the ILO, there are nearly 21 million people in forced labour around the world at any given time, over 14 million of these in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing. Forced labour and slavery are crimes punishable under international law, as we know. The growing concern over the rise in numbers of people being trafficked not only for sexual exploitation but also for labour exploitation led the international community to adopt in 2000 the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. The Protocol supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, and came into force in December 2003.

While states clearly have the legal duty to protect citizens and prosecute those involved in exploitation and trafficking, I want to turn our attention here to the role of the private sector in this area. What are the responsibilities of companies to respect human rights and combat forced labour and trafficking within their areas of operation and influence? To what extent can companies be deemed to be complicit in smuggling of migrants or trafficking offenses within their supply chains when they may well be unaware of these activities?

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council took an important step forward in clarifying corporate human rights responsibilities when it unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the final product of Professor John Ruggie’s six-year mandate as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights. Many of you will be familiar with its 3-pillar architecture, of the State duty to Protect, the Corporate Responsibility to Respect all human rights and the need to ensure Access to Remedy for victims of corporate related rights abuses.

With regard to migrant workers, and the risks of human trafficking, companies have a responsibility under the Guiding Principles to undertake ongoing due diligence to ensure the risks of exploitation are minimized and access to grievance mechanisms and remedy are in place. This is a huge challenge in the globalized economy. From the raw cotton in the fields of Uzbekistan supplying garment factories in Bangladesh to the mines in DRC producing coltan for mobile phones assembled in Malaysia, or the Thai fishing boats producing prawns for sandwiches consumed in London, supply chains are often complex and distant. Due diligence is required not only in the sourcing of commodities and components, but also in the sourcing of labour. Do apparel retailers know how the Bangladeshi workers in the factories they source from in Jordan or elsewhere were recruited? Do global hotel chains know how many of the South Asian construction workers building their hotels in Dubai or in other cities around the world are working as bonded labour due to the levels of debt accrued by recruitment fees charged by labour brokers?

For the last 20 years we have seen companies attempt to undertake due diligence and provide remedy at a distance through social auditing. This reliance on audits, often sub-contracted, has done little to enhance protection for workers or prevent forced labour and trafficking. A new approach by business is needed with an emphasis on responsible recruitment of migrant workers to combat the risk of bonded and forced labour and trafficking.

My colleagues and I at the Institute for Human Rights and Business has been working with a range of partners, including the ILO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to focus on the role of third-party labour providers present in many global supply chains. These labour providers can pose a significant risk to worker welfare and possible exploitation due to a range of all too common practices including excessive fees charged to workers, the retention of ID documents, and the lack of transparency around contracts. We are working to promote ethical recruitment whereby companies require their suppliers to use registered labour brokers only and to pay the recruitment costs instead of the workers paying those fees and thereby accruing onerous levels of debt.

In 2011, we launched the ‘Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity’, with the support of leading global companies and the ITUC. The Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity rest on two foundational principles:

First, that all workers are treated equally and without discrimination.

Migrant workers should be treated no less favourably than other workers performing the same or similar work. Moreover, migrant workers should be protected from any discrimination that would constitute a violation of human rights.

Second, that all workers enjoy the protection of employment law.

Migrant workers should have a legally recognised employment relationship with an identifiable and legitimate employer in the country where the work is performed. 

Following these broad statements, the Dhaka Principles are made up 10 implementation steps that can relate to any global supply chain and minimize the risk of trafficking and forced labour from occurring. Allow me to briefly explain these steps, as each are of critical importance and part of a growing international consensus on what is needed to wipe out human trafficking and migrant smuggling:

  1. No fees are charged to workers

The employer should bear the full costs of recruitment and placement. Migrant workers should not be charged any fees for recruitment or placement.

  1. All worker contracts are clear and transparent

Migrant workers should be provided with written contracts in a language each worker understands, with all terms and conditions explained clearly, and the worker’s assent obtained without coercion.

  1. Policies and procedures are inclusive

Migrant workers’ rights should be explicitly referred to in employer and migrant recruiter public human rights policy statements, relevant operational policies and procedures addressing human rights responsibilities.

  1. No workers’ passports or identity documents are retained

Migrant workers should have free and complete access to their own passport, identity documents, and residency papers, and enjoy freedom of movement.

  1. Wages are paid regularly, directly and on time

Migrant workers should be paid what they are due on time, regularly and directly.

  1. The right to worker representation is respected

Migrant workers should have the same rights to join and form trade unions and to bargain collectively as other workers. Let me say a few additional words on this point as they too often are left unspoken.

The biggest single factor in preventing forced labour and trafficking in supply chains is the active presence of trade unions. Where trade unions are able to operate effectively, incidents of modern slavery are demonstrably reduced. Increasingly, enlightened businesses are realizing that far from being something to be feared, trade unions are a key way of ensuring decent workplace standards and protection against exploitation and abuse.

And not just in relation to forced labour and trafficking. The positive role played by the Industriall union in the Bangladesh Accord, after the Rana Plaza tragedy just two years ago is an example of how working partnerships between the brands and trade unions can offer credible solutions to systemic problems. In fact it is the only credible solution. Business has nothing to fear from strong modern trade unions and a great deal to gain. The role of trade unions in helping ensure slavery- free workplaces will become increasingly significant as business realizes it is better to address systemic challenges within their operations than simply continue to face problem after problem in their supply chains. Collective agreements across entire sectors are key to transforming workplace standards, avoiding business risk and helping to deliver respect for rights including human rights.

  1. Working conditions are safe and decent

Migrant workers should enjoy safe and decent conditions of work, free from harassment, any form of intimidation or inhuman treatment. They should receive adequate health and safety provision and training in relevant languages.

  1. Living conditions are safe and decent

Migrant workers should enjoy safe and hygienic living conditions, and safe transport between the workplace and their accommodation. Migrant workers should not be denied freedom of movement, or confined to their living quarters.

  1. Access to remedy is provided

Migrant workers should have access to judicial remedy and to credible grievance mechanisms, without fear of recrimination or dismissal. Beyond the moral reasoning of offering protection for those working within a country or migrating to work, there are also sound economic reasons for governments to do so. We hear much of how laws and regulations strangle and stifle the dynamism of business. The suggestion is often made that if only law-makers would step aside, business and markets would establish themselves to overcome problems and design effective solutions. The experience of IHRB and the many businesses we speak with tells a very different story. If there is one thing that all business wants, and we hear this constantly, it is stability. A set of clearly defined stable conditions that enable them to compete fairly within the law.

  1. Freedom to change employment is respected, and safe, timely return is guaranteed

Migrant workers should be guaranteed provision for return home on contract completion and in exceptional situations. They should not, however, be prevented from seeking or changing employment in the host country on completion of first contract or after two years, whichever is less.

The good news is that a small but growing number of leading global companies have introduced a policy of ‘no worker fees’, such as Apple, HP and Coca-Cola. Others include policies on non-retention of worker passports. With bold corporate leadership this can become the industry norm. Coupled with strong legislation and enforcement by governments requiring companies to use registered labour brokers, these would be very significant steps to reducing the risk of forced labour and trafficking.

Governments are taking steps to require companies to report on how they are addressing the risk of forced labour and trafficking in their supply chains. In the US, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2012 and the UK’s very recently passed Modern Slavery Act are two such examples, and are being welcomed by responsible companies as a means of leveling the playing field and mitigating risk across industries.

The British Retail consortium and a collection of leading UK Businesses, including a number of leading supermarkets and retailers, made a submission to the UK government regarding the Modern Slavery Bill as it passed through Parliament. In it they stated:

“ we would like to see a clause in the Bill that calls for transparency in supply chains. We believe that smart legislation that requires all companies to be transparent about the steps they are taking to address modern slavery and child labour in their supply chain can help drive stronger and broader efforts to end exploitation and abuse of workers…”

They go on to say:

“ We know we can and must continue to do more to prevent modern slavery and the media and the public demand that we do this. But we can do so more effectively where clear, well designed regulation …. is in place.”

The strength of effective state legislation and enforcement to protect human rights, along with the collective actions and human rights leadership of responsible companies and adequate access to remedy, are all essential elements in tackling the rising tide of trafficking that we are seeing in so many industries and countries today. We at the Institute for Human Rights and Business stand ready to work with all of you who are committed to combating human trafficking and protecting the rights of all migrant workers around the world.

Thank you.

Magna Carta: Magna Negotium

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800 years after the signing of the Magna Carta (“the great charter”) in the water meadows of Runnymede, England, what would we include in a modern day version: businesses perhaps? Business, and other powerful non-state actors, risk being overlooked in the development of new international law despite recent efforts. This commentary argues that whilst working towards the next Magna Carta moment, we are missing some significant opportunities along the way.

As we approach May 2015, there will be increasing focus on what the Magna Carta meant in 1215. To misquote the Monty Python team: “What has the Magna Carta ever done for us?” I will leave it to historians to answer this question. Perhaps the elevator version is that it was a historic settlement between the English barons and their King (John), not honoured at the time but which has become symbolic for the rights of individuals more generally – largely because it was repeatedly evoked by reformers between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries as “fundamental law”. This is nowhere more the case than in the 13 former English colonies in North America and as an inspiration for the US Constitution itself. Some comfort perhaps for the Eton educated British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who when asked on the David Letterman TV show in September 2012 to translate the words from Latin in English – failed, as many of us Brits would, to do so.

But perhaps the more important question is what would a modern fundamental law such as the Magna Carta include today, or is it already happening? In some ways we know the answer, as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and all that followed) delineates that which the Magna Carta did not – the rights of all peoples against the power of every state. But would we stop there? It is often said that there are others in society that have as much power as some governments and therefore they too need to be constrained in the same way as the barons did to King John. We might consider powerful non-state actors such as religious groups, de-facto sub-national governments, powerful NGOs or, of course, business enterprises. And here I don’t just mean accountability under existing national laws, I mean international standards that strengthen national legal and non-legal accountability, but also hold non-state actors to account when their own states cannot or will not. This is perhaps not what libertarians in the US have in mind when they evoke the Magna Carta, but from a social contract perspective the question needs to be asked and answered.

Lets take one of these powerful non-state actors: business. It is often stated that big businesses are more powerful than many governments – that business represents over half of the world’s top 100 economies outstripping the GDP of many states. This sounds impressive and in some ways it is true: some businesses can leverage significant capital, large companies can move markets and strategic business sectors (such as commodities, ICT, finance or labour providers) can indeed impact – positively or negatively – on the ability of governments to provide for the basic needs of their populations.

But it is easy to overstate the power of large business. Unlike in the days of the East India Trading Company, large companies today do not have unbridled power. They do not have their own armies and cannot easily annex territory or assets by force without the connivance of a government. Publicly listed companies are constrained by shareholders and markets. Private companies are more independent but are rarely of the size and scale needed to rank in the top 100 economies. And state-owned companies, such as many of the titans of China or India, are exactly that – controlled at least in part by governmental interests. No one can seriously maintain that the governments of the USA, China or Russia are run by big business – influenced, yes, but sovereign power is still firmly in place.

But the events of the past thirty years, and in particular following the financial crisis within OECD member states, suggests that big business does have a case to answer at least in part, and we might well expect CEOs to be at the table in Runnymede to account for their power. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh two years ago was one such moment, killing over 1,100, but so too was the Bhopal disaster in India thirty years ago and scores of others in between. Each time big business is asked to account for its actions, or its negligence, and then things move on, much as they were before. If the recent allegations against HSBC relating to tax avoidance are found to be true, then we can have little faith in the maxim that “we are all in it together” when it comes to austerity.

Lets be clear, there are many good CEOs out there, and many large companies trying to use their leverage for the good of society, but there also remain systemic problems including those to do with unaccountable power. It is an unavoidable fact that transnational companies have certain advantages due to their supra-national scale, when it comes to transfer pricing between markets or moving production or supply chains between low-cost sources – where perhaps social and environmental protections are not what they should be. Some of these advantages are borderline anti-competitive and privilege large companies over small. But, of course, small companies too can behave recklessly if they choose to do so with bad consequences – think about the power of ICT security providers (note the recent UK Government ruling on “Gamma International” in Bahrain), cut throat recruitment agencies worldwide or rogue mining exploration companies in unstable countries as examples.

At the moment, Governments are divided as to how best approach the thorny issue of extraterritoriality and business – the extent to which companies should be accountable in the legal systems of “home countries” for their actions across borders and particularly in “weak governance” zones around the world. For some, the central issue is impunity – how large companies can sometimes shift assets and money across borders to escape a particular national jurisdiction. For other governments, the central issue is the creation of a leveller playing field for all business – so that those companies registered in weaker or more corrupt jurisdictions are also held to the same environmental and social standards as those based in well-regulated markets. And for some other governments, it is more about hegemony and an effort to prise open market share from the existing main players.

It is unlikely that there will ever be special rules for large companies, but it is likely that we will see more and more international norms for business more generally, particularly those in high-risk sectors or operating in fragile states. It will not be so much “Magna Negotium” as “Omnibus Negotiis” – all businesses – and in particular those businesses that present the greatest potential risk to human welfare. And there will be no single “Magna Carta” moment – instead there are various Runnymede water meadows at which the role of non-state actors needs to be closely examined. Lets just take two examples.

The UK’s Modern Day Slavery Bill will hopefully gain parliamentary assent in March 2015 before Westminster closes for the forthcoming election. Given the undeniable importance of the market and supply chains in perpetuating many aspects of modern-day slavery it seems inconceivable that the original version of the Bill was first introduced into the House of Commons with no reference to business at all. The disclosure requirement that is now in the Bill is the result of committee work in Parliament, and not directly the UK Government itself – the first to develop a national action plan on business and human rights!

And, beyond the UK, the 2014 Protocol to the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Forced Labour, the first since 1930, was agreed by all but one government with only a very weak reference to business due diligence (a reference that some governments and business associations resisted). It will now be up to individual governments to interpret what the business due diligence requirement should actually look like in their domestic law, if they do so at all.

These two examples were important Runnymede moments where businesses were almost missing conceptually and where governments and much civil society seemed unwilling or unable to bring direct corporate responsibility into the tent.

So, for all of those that wait for the next Magna Carta, the time will come – such as in 1215 or 1948 – but things will need to get worse before power will shift in such fundamental terms. In the meantime, do not miss all the other water meadows along the way.

Has “fracking” lost its social licence?

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As we approach the next general election, will the UK ever develop an impartial national debate on hydraulic fracturing?

The first time I came across hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) was when interviewing geologists at test sites in the north of South Africa and Botswana seven years ago. I was looking at how such technologies might affect fragile populations where water is already scarce and where nomadic communities, as well as farmers, rely on shallow aquifers for their livelihoods, as does wildlife for its survival. I came away with a range of questions and have followed the debate since. Frequent reference was made then to the “fracking debate” in the USA but little did I know we also had hydraulic fracturing in the UK even then and had done so for decades, albeit mainly off-shore.

Now, several years later, we do have a national debate in the UK but it is far from being impartial or arriving at any consensus. It seems rooted in mistrust, conflicting information and entrenched positions: like the debate on Genetically-Modified Crops twenty years ago. Why did our policy-makers allow this to happen again?

There are very good reasons, even at a time of falling oil and gas prices, why the UK should be more self-sufficient in its energy supply. Issues surrounding pipelines from Russia receive a lot of publicity as do human rights in Saudi Arabia. By comparison, much less attention is given to Qatar (one the UK’s major overseas gas suppliers). There are good geo-political reasons, at a time when the North Sea Oil Fields resources are declining – or at least the UK’s bit of them, to look seriously at other sources of UK energy production. There are also very good environmental reasons why we should be shifting away from coal and oil to gas for our power generation in the medium term, whilst also building a solid base of renewables and possibly nuclear energy.

There are good arguments, but have they been heard by the British people? Public opinion polls suggest a low baseline of awareness as to what hydraulic fracturing actually is. The Government’s own research suggests that whilst three quarters of the population have heard about “fracking shale gas” about half of the population do not have an opinion either way about its efficacy, whilst those in opposition represent less than a quarter. Other polls suggest that opposition continues to grow to about 30% of those questioned, rising to 40% if it relates to a local area or up to 70% if in a National Park.

In my book on the “social licence” of activities, I define the concept as having three core definitional elements: legitimacy, trust and consent. The first is notoriously difficult to define but vested interests must be seen as part of it – is the case for fracking objectively made or do some stand to profit more than others. The ownership structure of the companies that hold the exploration licenses is perhaps a surprise to those outside of the industry and can raise concerns over potential or perceived conflicts of interest. There are hundreds of oil and gas exploration companies registered in London and operating across Africa and parts of Asia. It is possibly only those operating in the UK that have received scrutiny. It is not surprising that these companies employ former government officials or former captains of industry – they bring expertise but they also bring access. Cuadrilla, one of the leading UK fracking companies, is chaired by Lord Browne (a man I happen to admire greatly), the former BP boss but also an advisor to Government and there are number of former government ministers connected to the industry. There is of course nothing wrong with this necessarily but the state-energy nexus will need careful explaining to the public for the industry to maintain its legitimacy. It is one thing for BP or Shell to hire former government bods for their global operations, quite another when the drilling is in Sussex or Lancashire it would seem.

When it comes to “trust”, the polling suggests there is a significant way to go and that it is Greenpeace and the Green Party that are currently winning the national debate. And “consent”, well although exploration licenses have been granted by central government, local authorities seem increasingly willing to deny or delay planning permission in the face of local concerns. The protests in Balcombe during 2013 might only be the start of what is to come. All of this seems out of kilter when the real risks are considered. It seems the British people are more than willing to allow those in the Middle East or Africa to face environmental degradation or human rights abuses (such as those in the Niger Delta that have gone on for decades) but much more squeamish about drilling in their own leafy backyard – even if the impacts of which will be incomparably less. This Nimby-ism has rarely been called out (which politician, NGO or business sees it in their interests to do so?) but is clearly a strong component of the UK debate.

It might not be too late for the next UK Government to lead a national debate on the future of our energy supply and the many advantages of domestic energy production. And yes, as much of this as possible should be renewable in the short to medium-term with renewables dominating in the long-term. If there is no need for gas over the medium–term – and I mean really no foreseeable need – then fine, but I have yet to read any compelling evidence of this. Rather, if part of our national strategy is to move from oil and coal to gas over the shorter term – then the UK’s own gas should be part of the mix, surely, and not just that from Qatar and Norway. There are clearly environmental risks associated with fracking in the UK but the impacts of these will be far less than those in drought-prone parts of Africa where British companies are also leading the charge and the British public asks no questions. If the UK wants gas, then why not shoulder some of the risk at home, where it can be better managed and is subject to the full force of British law? We have for decades exported the environmental and human rights impacts of our energy demands.

The next government, likely to be a coalition of some kind, would do well to make Britain’s future energy policy as non-partisan and transparent as possible. Perhaps a multi-stakeholder approach could be developed where government, industry and civil society sit down together to identify and manage the risks of which ever energy sources are exploited here at home. The UK has led on such approaches internationally in relation to revenue transparency in the extractive sectors (the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative currently chaired by Claire Short and which now has 48 member countries) and also in relation to the use of public and private security forces (the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights which the UK currently chairs). Why not a multi-stakeholder approach relating to energy exploration here at home? This might, just might, ensure that that communities can give informed consent to whatever comes next energy wise.

What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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The following is a short reading from my book The Social License I recently recorded for “Author’s Corner” on National Public Radio in the USA. It relates to Chapter Six of the book and the issue of community consent.

(Start)

When we talk about an enterprise as having a “social license” what do we mean? I mean it has legitimacy through accountability to the people and not just powerful interests. But cultures surely differ in how they understand this.

As one indigenous leader in Guatemala explained to me: “Companies want to consult with us about their operations. They often want to know how long it will take our community to respond. We tell them that sometimes it will take one night, sometimes it might be a week, or even years. It depends on the question they ask.”

There was once a mining company desperate to open a mine deep within the Australian outback. The challenge for the company was the fact that the mine would sit upon the land of indigenous peoples. Under Australian law, the company needed to gain the consent of the local community before any mining could start. Every month, the company’s anthropologist went to talk to the village elders. One old lady sat there in silence during every visit with her eyes closed, letting the men of the village voice their fears and concerns.

The anthropologist was concerned by the silence of the woman. After two years of visits, the community was still withholding its consent. After one awkwardly long silence, the anthropologist was surprised to see that the woman had opened her eyes. The woman fixed the anthropologist in a long stare and said in her broad Aussie accent: “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

I’m author John Morrison

(End)

A Trade Union leader’s personal perspective

Jim Baker’s thoughts on “The Social License” by John Morrison (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014)

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(Jim Baker was Co-ordinator of the Council of Global Unions (CGU) until 1 July 2014. The CGU was formed in January of 2007 and is composed of Global Union Federations, which group trade unions by sector and occupation as well as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), which bring together national trade union centres. Prior to that, Baker was the Director of the Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Before joining the ILO, he held the post of Director of the Department of Multinational Enterprises at the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in Brussels. These comments represent his personal thoughts)

The book accomplished what I understood to be its mission. It provoked thought and helped to further the discussion. What follows are some fairly unorganised thoughts that it provoked, by no means exhaustive: some of which might be useful.

Traditional CSR, public relations, and due diligence

The book showed restraint in its reflections on CSR, but I think that the essential points were made about its weaknesses and about the nature and self-propelling characteristics of the CSR industry. I had two complementary thoughts.

First, some of the comments reminded me of how CSR language has tripped us up. As George Orwell wrote,“…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. I suspect that we have all been afflicted by this language effect. We have become artificially conditioned to react in a way devoid of common sense. It is as if we have become one of Pavlov’s dogs that confuse noise with real food.

That brings me to a larger point that came to mind in several sections of the book; the degree to which we have all been affected by public relations and “hype”. Growing up in the Northwest, dependent on the lumber and wood products industry at the time, I recall that major companies were being attacked for logging without restoring the forests (inadequate planting of new trees to replace the barren ground that they had created). One of the major companies responded, not by planting more trees, but by calling themselves, “the tree growing people”. Part of the struggle for us all will be to separate the real from the imaginary.

The most serious danger of misinformation and disinformation is, undoubtedly, for democracy. The level of political debate is lower than at any other time in my memory. The people may still make decisions, but based on what information? And, where is that information coming from? In the US, with the end of key restrictions on political and issues funding, the “marketplace of ideas” is becoming more distorted as it is being increasingly “bought”.

But, to get back to smaller problems, the business and human rights framework is the best way out of the incestuous CSR world. However, the element that is probably, in practical terms, the most important is due diligence. It gets beyond companies saying and “proving” how good they are and others saying how bad they are to something that, rather than a good and evil measure, can be judged on how robust a process is; in that sense, it compares to democracy. After all, democracy is, above all else, the question of the value and validity and legitimacy of a process.

One of the useful and salvageable words in CSR is “responsibility”. I think that, to some extent, the use of the word “obligations” in the business and human rights discussions has worked. It is the same sense that rehabilitation of the word “responsibility” might be useful.

Legitimacy

A key argument of the book is legitimacy. It is related to the social license along with other concepts and it covers business, government and civil society organisations. I understand the importance of the argument and that without it, it does not hold together as well as it would otherwise. However, my idea of legitimacy is more restricted; probably reflecting the fact that I have spent my life dealing with it in a trade union context. And, defining legitimacy was central to the fight against totalitarianism, but also against company unions and other outside influences and control.

Legitimate trade unions are what were called “free trade unions”. Although the term has gone out of style, the concept remains important. Trade unions should be controlled by their members, not by the boss or by government or by a party, or by a church or by various stripes of mobsters. There have been two issues; the lack of outside control and democratic procedures to ensure that there is internal control by members. As in other democracies, the real democratic life in trade unions does not depend exclusively on having democratic constitutions and rules and dedicated democrats as leaders.

I think that it is important (in reference to a passage in the book) to maintain the importance of the distinction between Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Both make a significant contribution to the human rights debate, but having democracies inside democracies are also quite important. That is, of course, also true of trade unions that are, if they are free trade unions, both democratic and representative as well as being part of both the private sector and civil society. Trade unions and other democratic organisations also serve as schools for democracy. Also, democratic organisations depend for their legitimacy on internal factors; the expression of views of members or citizens rather than “stakeholders” or others.

That, in no way, minimizes the impact of expertise, dedication and good work any more than it is a form of attack on the great men and women that you quoted in your book. Non-governmental individuals (NGIs) are important, but are different than representative organisations. And, “membership-based” organisations are neither automatically representative nor democratic.

Constraints on business

Although we all have high hopes for the impact that the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights will have on the future of capitalism, it is important to be realistic. Although there are forces and pressures building for companies to be more sensitive to human rights, such considerations are not driving business, even those making the most sincere efforts. And, there are other powerful forces in the world economy that business cannot ignore.

One of the realities of the financialisation of the economy culminating in the financial crisis is that the actors in financial markets often had more power than the people who were running businesses in the productive economy. Businesses were making bad decisions, in purely business terms (even though they often had human rights impacts as well) because they had to place priority on paying high dividends over investing in the future of their enterprises. If not, they risked hostile takeovers, asset stripping, etc. As has become clear with the BEPS work of the OECD, businesses were also often making bad business decisions related to shifting profits and transfer pricing; again, unrelated to production or services.

I have had a number of discussions with trade union leaders who saw eye to eye with their managers that action that undermined the long-term viability of companies and that resulted in bad investment priorities (and often in layoffs even if units were profitable) was destructive, but that they were in a context where there was no choice. With the GPs, we tend to look at MNEs as if they are powerful forces that can extend their respect for human rights to others. That is, to some extent, true, but it does not mean that they always have complete control or absolute power.

Of course, the market context is different for different sectors and companies inside of sectors. It is important and necessary to try to improve the health and safety and the rights situation in Bangladesh. However, that does not change the fact that in labour-intensive industries like garments, there is enormous competitive pressure for low wages and poor conditions. In other words, to look at Bangladesh without looking at the way that the global market in clothing works is only a tiny piece of the picture. Although it might sound protectionist to some, we did not have these massive problems in the 1970’s when much of the clothing market was being supplied by companies producing in the UK, the US and other developed countries. Workers had fought for their rights for generations and had made huge progress before they lost jobs as employment shifted to workers without rights. In the US, famously on the docks (although it existed elsewhere), there were “shapeups” where workers gathered each morning and were picked by the bosses to work that day. We are now in a sort of global shape-up where the labour of a human being has, once again, become a commodity and the basis of competitive advantage in some markets.

However, there is one specific area where the UNGPs have enormous potential concerning institutional investors. In the trade union movement, we have always had to explain to pension trustees that they cannot use their positions to “do good” or even to carry out their missions as trade unionists. Their job, often restricted by law and regulation, is to get a good return on investments to benefit retirees. If they could help in some situations, it was through the “business case”, in other words, arguing that bad industrial relations or environmental practices could jeapardise the profits and futures of companies and, for that reason, should be avoided. Decisions of the Dutch and Norwegian National Contact Points on due diligence responsibilities of institutional investors even with minority investments are an important change. If such considerations could have equal weight with fiduciary considerations, and if laws could be modified in keeping with that idea, it could, indeed, have great impact.of

Public Private Partnerships

PPPs are in fashion, in part, because governments and international organisations are looking for new sources of revenue. However, I think that there are not enough discussions about their usefulness, about any effects on democratic governance or public priorities or even their efficiency. I have always supported using private money for public purposes, but in the form of government bonds. Investors get a safe, guaranteed return and governments get needed resources, but public control remains intact. That is not the same as turning over services to private parties.

“Stakeholders”

The book helpfully tries to limit the use of the word “stakeholder”, but I have come to the conclusion that we need a stakeholder like in the Dracula films that can put a stake through its heart. It has gotten so out of control that governments are often considered stakeholders in companies, citizens are considered stakeholders in their governments (that might be true in China, but citizens are “shareholders” in democratic governments). It is an over-used and abused, and misleading word.

Some other more specific points

Page 34. The book mentions that CSR directors are restrained on employee issues because that is the province of HR directors. This cuts both ways. CSR directors often see employees, even the companies own employees as “stakeholders”. HR directors, by contrast, most often see employees as internal. An HR director who is instructed to respect human rights is, in fact, at the nexus of one of the few places where democracy actually has an impact on the company. He or she is dealing with trade unions on a daily basis. A good HR director often has the mentality of working and negotiating with people. A bad one, like a lot of CSR directors, sees his/her job as “taking care” of people.

Page 59. I found the Wikileaks example very interesting and completely concur that there is an issue of adverse impacts. An extreme example from some years ago was publishing names of CIA agents; thus putting their lives in danger. However, your paragraphs prompted another thought. Wikileaks also shows how weak and fragile professional, ethical journalism has become. The same information, handled by skilled journalists would have been much more useful than the flood of information with no study or analysis. Would newspapers be capable of breaking the Watergate story today even if they had all the information? And, what will Google do down the road when there is no reliable content?

Pages 70-71. I think that the book is right not to be “absolutist” when it comes to trust. It is very difficult to really understand what it means. In terms of SRI, a very large proportion of money that was SRI invested went into banks – pre-financial crisis. Was that trust mis-placed? But, that probably reflected public sentiment. If you can’t trust the banks, who can you trust?

And, there is the issue of trust by whom. Some decades ago, the US Department of Labour did an extensive poll on attitudes towards trade unions. As expected, it showed fairly negative views by the general public. And, when union members were asked about trade unions, in general, there was little difference from the public reaction. But, when they were asked what they thought of their own trade unions, they were very positive. For me, the second figure is the most important. However, the reaction of union members to trade unions in general also shows that union members are influenced by what they hear in the media in spite of their personal experience. I cite this example as something that shows how complicated trust can be.

Page 84. I thought that the points about tacit consent and about manipulation were very important. If we are to protect democracy, we have to work at it, but these issues are rarely on the agenda. Some years back, a friend of mine from the UAW was complaining about the fact that the Republican right was able to reach some of our members. He said, “It is like convincing the chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders”.

Page 91. I thought that the quotation from Salil Tripathi about not being able to measure a human rights abuse was excellent. The foolishness of claiming respect for freedom of association in China based on interviews is along these lines. This is another reason why due diligence rather than claiming virtue makes sense.

Pages 99-101. The discussion of businesses working in cooperation with NGOs and supply chains prompts me to point out that it is also appropriate for global companies to speak with Global Union Federations about their employees. As opposed to trying to improve conditions and rights in suppliers, some companies, through this process of examination of the situation in their facilities and suppliers some companies are actually making many workers direct employees and, in that way, ensuring that their rights are respected.

Pages 101-102. Although I do not disagree with you on outrageous CEO pay, I tend, however, to look at it as part of a broader issue of inequality. Pay determination is always subjective. To me, paying a CEO millions in salary and other benefits for his work is not inherently more evil than enabling somebody to make millions without working by clipping coupons.

Pages 105-106. The section about understanding power was really good. It is, in fact, an argument that is largely missing in CSR. And, there is no place where the imbalance of power has a bigger effect on rights or their absence than at the workplace. In fact, the worst impact on rights in triangular employment relationships is that a relationship between a worker and an employer that, in labour law, is recognised as being inherently unequal is replaced by commercial law relationships where parties are assumed to be equal. Fear is also highly relevant to power. As bad as it may be to be powerful; it is worse to be powerless.

A naïve wish for 2015

 

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Radically transparent supply chains

Once upon a time, in a far away land, the people decided to find out who made all the wonderful things that appeared in the town shop every morning…

As we approach 2015 there is perhaps a small opportunity for some wishful thinking upon a star. The coming year looks like being a tough one. Whilst we might expect good news on US-Iranian relations, tensions between the West and Russia could well deepen and extremists of various kinds are likely to inflict more horrors on the innocent, as recently took place in Pakistan. Europe looks like it will continue its walk towards increasing populism and xenophobia. We can only hope that enough multilateralism will prevail for forthcoming agreements on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals. But what on business and human rights?

We all wish there will not be another incident of the scale of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh (which killed over 1,100 in April 2013) or the Turkish mine disaster (which killed over 300 in May 2014). Globalisation has lifted millions, if not billions, out of abject poverty over the past thirty years but it has also widened national inequalities and increased the power of non-state actors such as business. We can and should work for stronger laws, stronger enforcement and greater accountability but will it be enough? The social contract that binds our societies is shifting and national governments are struggling to keep up with the demands of communities and the wider population.

There perhaps has not been a time in history when democracy has been so widespread but also so undervalued. There are also signs that some governments want businesses to play an increasing role in the social contract itself, be it in terms of internet governance, on the one hand, or public-private partnerships to realise the Sustainable Development Goals, on the other. Given it will take years, if not decades, to respond adequately to these changing power dynamics, what are the essential steps we take in the meantime?

Greater transparency is clearly an essential step and this will not be news to any reader. Over the past ten years, there have been a range of important initiatives between governments, business and civil society on issues such as extractive sector revenue and tax, conflict minerals, timber or even the social audits of ICT, apparel or food companies. But we have a problem. These important initiatives, or laws that mandate transparency, operate outside of wider public awareness or scrutiny. And this lack of public interest limits the political prioritisation given to human rights by governments, the responsiveness of business and the resources available to NGOs.

Fundamentally, there is a lack of sufficient incentives within most value chains for lasting systemic change. For example, this week’s BBC Panorama undertook another documentary on a leading brand, this time Apple, and allegations of the abuse of migrant temporary workers in the supply chain including excessive overtime. In previous years it has been other brands with allegations of  child labour and so on. The issues raised are very serious but they are often, but not always,  systemic in nature. If you might think that such media attention would lead to changes in consumer behavior, well think again. The BBC journalist fronting the documentary on Apple admitted at the start of the piece how much he loved the product, as do I, and many people I know. Just looking at the number of iPhones and Macbooks evident at the recent United Nations Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights – that says it all – we all love to buy quality brands if we can afford to, perhaps feeling that even experts do not have the knowledge they need to make consumer choices either way.  Let me be clear – we don’t yet have the objective benchmarks to make such a decision about any ICT company and this is part of the problem and well as the frustration every time such a documentary is made.

If companies do change, and some are making big efforts, it is not driven by consumer behaviour or investors at the moment. Just think how much more we could achieve if we brought consumers and investors with us!

There are clearly not enough incentives and disincentives in the system for fundamental change. Law should provide more of these – particularly laws that capture the “submerged” actors who are not brought into the debate by public or political commentary. Conflict mineral legislation is one example of this and we can hope in 2015 to see more binding law relating to modern day slavery and the incorporation of the 2014 ILO Forced Labour Protocol into national legal regimes. And, yes, there might well be a case for a binding international treaty on business and human rights (more on this in 2015). But it would indeed be naïve to think that law alone will really drive the behavioural change we need amongst consumers and investors.

Also needed are market-based drivers. That is why many of us think that the public ranking of companies performance against human rights benchmarks is critical and we have recently launched a broad-based initiative to achieve this over the years ahead. Investors have a critical role to play: few companies will want to be bottom of their sector’s league table in terms of their human rights impacts. But consumers are also a critical factor that can no longer be over-looked.

So here are two radical fairytale endings.

The first possible ending: imagine that we in our fairytale town and when we go to the large furniture store (well known for its wonderful flat-packs) and you have the chance of interacting with a human being at the other end of the value chain. Through the magic of information technology and an image projected onto a screen, you would be able to pose questions to a worker representative at that week’s featured supplier on the other side of the planet and ask whatever question you liked (through an interpreter) about working conditions, the worker’s concerns and aspirations. Within the next ten years, one of the major retail brands will do this and, by doing so, begin to change the whole dynamics of corporate responsibility. It is nonsensical that consumers currently carry no responsibility for their own purchasing behaviour, this can and will change if consumers are given an opportunity to engage in the “kingdom of the supply chain” as Auret Van Heerden once called it.

A second possible ending: imagine a chain of fairytale theme parks in major cities such as Los Angeles, Orlando, Paris, Tokyo and so on and who currently spend many millions of dollars on supply chain auditing for the soft toys and other items sold therein. Imagine that they decided that supply chain auditing alone was never going to end the eternal risk of being caught out should some wicked goblin decide to scrutinise the supply chain with the hope of finding something, anything, that might embarrass the magic kingdom. Given that the theme parks touch hundreds of millions of people at some point of their lives, then they have an unrivalled opportunity to bring visitors into some state of awareness about supply chain conditions. Imagine that in every theme park there is a “supply chain interactive museum”, full of wondrous information about the real world.

Over time, consumer awareness of the complexities of supply chain management would increase and they would begin to ask the right questions of their own buying behaviour, and begin to reward those brands trying to do the right thing. This would save millions if not billions of dollars currently spent on auditing across industries, and instead some of this money into consumer awareness. Auditing would still have an important role to play – but disclosure and reporting would be more meaningful and be much more accessible to the most important stakeholder for any retailer – the consumer (or as we used to call them, the customer).

Sorry for the wishful thinking, but it is that time of year. I hope we will all live happily ever after, or at least until 1 January.

Remember, remember, the tenth of December…

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What should business do about shrinking civil society space?

Every year, on 10 December, the Institute for Human Rights and Business publishes its “Top Ten” issues to watch in the coming year. This year the plight of civil society and human rights defenders made the list, we cite examples from Africa, Australasia, Asia and Europe. But why?

It is undeniable that the space for civil society to play its independent role in defending the rights of citizens, and in particular the most marginalised, is shrinking in many parts of the world.  But why should businesses care? Human rights defenders around the world, who we remember today on International Human Rights Day, are a thorn in the side to governments and sometimes to businesses as well. Can a case really be made for businesses to defend the rights of  human rights defenders who might challenge the very governments with whom the companies wish to conduct their business? It might be #HumanRightsDay – a time for hope – but surely this is beyond the bounds of even idealistic wishful thinking?

Today, a range of civil society organisations were invited to join diplomats at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London to celebrate International Human Rights Day. Similar events were taking place in many other countries around the world, sometimes involving governments, sometimes not. This is not to give the UK Government a clean bill of health, questions were asked about the UK’s role in rendition relating to the victims of torture, following yesterday’s US Senate report on the CIA post 9/11, as well as why the European Convention of Human Rights has such a bad reputation in the eyes of some leading British politicians. But it remains the truth that the people who asked these questions today will not be fearing a knock on the door in the middle of the night for daring to do so. This cannot be said for an increasing number of countries. Marginalisation, violence and torture, or just the fear of them, can have a freezing effect on future dissent and freedom of expression. The important role of protecting privacy within this regard has already been made in an earlier commentary.

My friend Phil Bloomer from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asked the question about what the business response should be to this shrinking civil society space. It is an interesting question. Some companies will react that this is a political issue, an issue of civil and political rights and for any government and its citizens to sort out between themselves. Others, who have “gotten” the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) might also point out the role of business is to respect human rights – not to protect them. Therefore, some might argue that the rights of human rights defenders can be respected, but if a government or other entity wishes to abuse their freedom of expression or privacy on an issue not related to their core business activity, why is of their concern?

This, however,  would be an incorrect reading of the UNGPs as responsibility needs to be understood in terms of contribution or linkage to a negative impact – businesses can benefit from the status quo in countries where human rights defenders, trade unionists and others are routinely rounded up – just by staying quiet.

But we don’t even have to go there. Business logic itself suggests that human rights defenders are of core business concern. The number of companies that now have “stakeholder engagement” programmes is incalculable. But far fewer actually define what they consider a stakeholder to be. Interestingly, many shareholders, for whom the company actually has legal and fiduciary duties, resent the term as it dilutes their primary relationship to the company. This is very understandable. Therefore, I must admit I remain confused as to why so few companies actively use the term “rights-holder” to describe those people upon which their activities might have a direct impact.

Anyhow, if we accept that many companies now feel the need to talk to people (and not just shareholders and regulators) about their activities, then – by definition – they must take an interest in the ability for these people to think, speak and act freely, otherwise what is the point?  I would argue that is implicit in the whole stakeholder concept, in particular if we include rights-holders within it, that business should take an interest in the space allowed to civil society in any given market or production site.

I don’t often single out companies for praise, but I am excited by H&M’s public statements in relation to living wage and collective bargaining: that the only way to obtain meaningful understandings of what a living wage is within a particular context is to allow workers the freedom and security of negotiating one. “Trade Union space” is not often discussed within the same context as “civil society space” but the two are heavily linked. The abuse of rights outside of a workplace will eventually permuate the workplace itself, and vice versa. Arguably, most of the active human rights defenders in the world today, and especially when we consider the role of business, are trade unionists. But there are many other examples, companies have often given safe spaces to those vulnerable to exploitation and even murder, from Oskar Schindler forward, there is nothing new to this. Business leaders have to remain very quiet about what is perhaps the most sensitive of business and human rights issues. Even now we are still learning about the role business leaders played during the last years of apartheid South Africa.

But business can be more transparent about what it is doing proactively to help secure civil society space. The United Nations has itself clarified the essential role of human rights defenders. But in specific business leaders might like to consider steps such as:

  • Being more precise about who really are the affected rights-holders in a given country and to assess their vulnerability. Do nothing that will make them more vulnerable (including identifying them publicly if this is against their wishes) but do what you can to make them less vulnerable. In some contexts formalise your relationship with them if it helps to protect them.
  • Think very carefully about your corporate philanthropy. Whilst giving grants can often strengthen civil society, over dependency, co-option, corruption and discrimination can weaken it.
  • Even casual references to the importance of civil society in business operations can surprise governmental counterparts or the local security services which might make assumptions about what business is expecting. This is perhaps one of greatest public policy contributions of international multi-stakeholder processes such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights or the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers.
  • Have rapid response procedures to protect known human rights defenders or trade union representatives, which might mean bringing such people under the temporary protection of a company, international organization or a foreign embassy.
  • In conflict areas, use enhanced due diligence to assess the true vulnerability of all individuals and communities, and consult independent experts on the ground such as the International Committee of the Red Cross/ Red Crescent.

In my book, The Social License, I argue that civil society plays an essential role in defending the social contract itself – the ability of society to hold its governments to account. Less civil society means less social license, in definitional terms, as the consent granted to business activities is likely to be tacitly and not actively given. There is much that business could do to defend civil society space – we must first remind business leaders worldwide why it is in their own best interests.

So business, remember, remember, the tenth of December and in particular lets remember human rights defenders such as Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay, winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace.

Men. Just say no, politely…

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No more male-only panels or boards

Gender inequality is returning in new forms, and of course in most places it never went away.

A recent debate in the UK has been about whether a football player, who is a convicted rapist, should be allowed to return to his former football club after serving his prison term.  For some, this has reaffirmed a view that once the letter of the law has been followed, there is no further ethical issue. Curious. Many commentators, mostly male but not exclusively, cannot accept that such a football player has lost his social licence for a high-profile job which provides a role model to many young men (and women). He could not conceivably run in politics and therefore nor should he run for any other position in public life where his behaviour influences others.  This should not have to be an issue of legislation, but one of good governance and sound decision-making by the Boards of sporting bodies and football clubs.

You think I am over-reacting? Then ask yourself why so few British footballers are openly gay, when there must be hundreds who are. Its a different issue but the answer is the same. Culture plays a very significant role in hiding human rights abuse, whether it be in society, business or sport (don’t get me started on this week’s FIFA report).

The revelations about how so many British celebrities secretly behaved in the 1970s and 1980s have not yet served as enough of a wake up call. Now there are even allegations of murders in political cover-ups perhaps the biggest revelations are yet to come.

Even more pernicious are the hateful tweets that female BBC journalists received this week after robustly questioning a British comedian who tells rape jokes. Even some of the liberal left make light of sexual violence, defending the right of Julian Assange not to face justice in Sweden for charges of alleged sexual assault. Incredible. This is not to mention the everyday sexual violence that women face all around the world and the bravery of women who stand up to this.

If you are a man, like me (or unlike me it doesn’t matter), and wonder what you can do about the current state of affairs, here is one small example – inspired by our Scandinavian and Australian brothers. The next time you are invited to speak at an event and you the notice that the panel contains not a single representative of a non-male gender (and gender is more than a binary), then do not accept to speak. Don’t say “no” in a horrible way, but instead suggest the very many well-qualified non-male alternatives to yourself and try to persuade the organizers to invite them instead. I know this is tough advice for any young male trying to get into public life, but believe me a male-dominated public life is not worth the effort (have you ever been to a golf club AGM?).

It might not surprise you that Norway and Sweden have led the way with the “Equalisters” campaigners and the “Men Say No thanks” campaign #tackanej (in Sweden) and #takknei (in Norway). You might be more surprised that Australian men are also getting active. What about the rest of us?

Much less seems to be happening in my own country, the UK, but am pleased to see that the NGO Article 36 raised the issue of gender discrimination in policy making.  In May 2014 at the meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations, 17 experts were invited to speak and all 17 were men. Nothing more macho than lethal weapons it would seem.

And we all know that only a handful of FTSE-100 or Fortune-500 companies have female CEOs, or Board Chairs. But how many of us have really tried to do anything about it? The change starts with each of us in the day to day decisions we each make.

Of course it is more than gender – it is fundamentally about power. When sitting at the annual stakeholder meeting of a large European multinational I couldn’t help noticing that of the 300 people in the room, 95% were men. But equally as noticeable was that 99% were white, and no one removed their suit jackets (all uniformly black, the jackets that is) until the “chairman” of the Board had done so – oh yes, the chairman was a man. As power gradients steepen, diversity decreases.

You will meet many women working in CSR roles in business, but far fewer in risk management or strategic roles. You might think that you have gender and ethnic diversity sitting on a panel in London, Bogota or Delhi, only to find out at closer inspection that you are sitting exclusively with the elite 1%. Class or Caste discrimination is amongst the most invisible and pernicious but anyone with a working class background will know what I mean here.

So why this diatribe you might ask? Is this just Morrison being all politically correct all of a sudden.  Well I guess we all have the power to say “No thanks”. We might not sit in positions of power, on the boards of multinationals or in the inner sanctums of FIFA, but we can all say “no thanks” to many things and lets start with gender inequality.

The start: Why The Social License?

I wanted to write a book about the current state of affairs at the business-society interface and wanted a fresh approach – not one following the tramlines of existing ‘corporate social responsibility’  (CSR) thinking or another book on business and human rights, there have been several excellent books already written on the latter (not least by my colleagues at the Institute for Human Rights and Business). I wanted to come to the issues afresh and from first principles as much as possible. I am therefore wholly to blame for the arguments set out in the book and this blog.

The enduring vision I have of why I work in this area is that of the evolution of the marketplace – a point Anita Roddick was lucid on. Several hundred years ago, and still in physical markets in many parts of the world, buyers and sellers operate in close proximity – they know each other, where each other lives and are likely to meet on a weekly or daily basis. There has been and still is, in such market places, a greater sense of interpersonal accountability. This is not to say that there were not long complex supply chains in past ages (obsidian, for example, was traded over thousands of kilometres over thousands of years) and also there were clearly abusive practices such as slave labour, but customers were much more actively involved in making judgements about the quality and reliability of not just the product but also the behaviour of the seller. Contrast this with the world of the past 20 years, where global value chains are hugely complex and where the humans involved (be they workers, investors, customers or consumers)  are very much disempowered in their ability to  influence the way the business of business is conducted.  We need new tools, awareness and laws to bridge this gap which has externalised the true social and environmental cost of production. At a instinctive level, the book is a reaction to the dehumanising effect of much of what we now call the global marketplace.

I was also interested that the term ‘social license to operate’ was emerging in many different places around the world and for different reasons. True, it remains a term still associated mainly with the extractive industries, but it I hear it elsewhere – within constitutional think tanks in Kenya, for example, or US-based beverage  companies. It is an attractive term because it is suggestive of a rationale about why any non-state actor should engage in social issues, particularly why an organisation whose primary stated purpose is not social (i.e. a business) should do so.  Unlike CSR or even human rights, it is an outcome and not just an objective. That said the term ‘social license’ was not clearly defined and was at risk quickly moving into the category of ‘self-declaratory CSR’ – as John Ruggie would call it.

So the book tries to pin down the ‘social licence’ concept and in a way relevant not just to business, but all other types of organisation. The pinning required something of a conceptual framework, more perhaps than a non-academic book should attempt (particularly when written by someone who is very much not an academic).  I had the work of all my colleagues in the business and human rights field as ballast – which reminds us that a human-centric approach must be about impact and impact in human rights terms. And that accountability is about redress and remedy, but it is also about prevention as well as transparency. This I had ‘in my back pocket’ so to speak and those of you that read the book will see it becomes an important feature of the later chapters. But I needed to get there – and particularly for the more skeptical reader who might think that ‘social licence’ sounds nice but is just a fashionable buzz word, and that human rights and business have little to do with each other.  Therefore I evoked the thinking of some of the greatest in making some superficial but important links back to social contract thinking of 200-300 years ago. It is not so easy to dismiss social contract theory as fluff given the influence it had on shaping democracies and ideas of civil society in many parts of the world.

It seems I am one of the first in the world to define social license in social contract terms, and you can judge to what extent I pull this off. The social contract experts who have seen my book have been polite and kind, but I knowingly dip my toe into what are very deep waters. However, there is much of what I seen in the writing of those such as Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau which does resonate with questions about the role of business (and other organisations) in contemporary society. At a minimum, I hope to provoke a reaction from which we all might learn something. And, as my patience with the ‘CSR industry’ is wearing thin, I give us all a good collective kick to do better and too ask the tougher questions about the activities of all of our organisations.

I will not just be blogging to promote this my first book. Rather I wish to develop my own voice and thinking on a range of issues, perhaps resulting in future books perhaps to be written by others. I hope some of you will share this journey through your own comments and writings. The role and legitimacy of non-state organisations in today’s world (be they businesses, NGOs, communities, religious organisations, regional authorities and so on) is one of the most fundamental of our life time and so tough questions need to be asked.