The Human Rights and Business Department gathers business leaders and NGOs together for training and experience-sharing in the local business environment. This increases companies’ capacity to develop human rights practices, and also increases local NGOs’ capacity to respond to the concerns of business. This partnership approach gives local business and NGOs ownership of the final initiative. The program has been piloted in South Africa and the Balkans, and is currently being rolled out to more regions and countries.
Human Rights and Business Department capacity building projects are designed with the objective of improving the human rights performance of companies in developing countries. This is done by improving the capacity of local National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and NGOs to address human rights and business issues in the local context and cooperate with the corporate sector. This also emcompasses strengthening cooperation and dialogue between local human rights groups and business leaders on issues concerning corporate responsibility and human rights.
Capacity building projects begin by identifying human rights partners in the local business environment for collaboration and cooperation. This comprises local human rights groups, business leaders or confederations, trade unions, universities and, if possible, host governments. The purpose is to enhance cooperation and dialogue between all stakeholders on corporate responsibility and human rights.
Capacity building projects take place over three years and involve three main tasks:
- Focused training and capacity building of a local 'focal point' for business and human rights issues.
- Awareness-raising through roundtables, seminars and training
- Development of localised country specific Human Rights Compliance Assessment
The development of a localised HRCA uses the HRCA Quick Check as the point of departure and modifies it to the local context. This process includes: i) identifying high-risk human rights areas in the country; ii) developing new questions and indicators based on these risk areas; iii) modifying existing Quick Check content to address the identified risks; and iv) adding references to national law.
When a draft version of the tool has been developed, it will be taken through an implementation process where companies in cooperation with human rights NGOs will test the tool on their operations. After the test process, feedback will be incorporated and the tool finalised.
The approach to working with the private sector will be similar to the approach taken by DIHR in its other capacity building projects around the world. It is an approach characterised by cooperation and dialogue between partners, and lead by the developing country partner’s identified needs.
The Role of the Human Rights and Business Department
The Department oversees and manages each capacity building pilot. This includes the overall design of the project (in consultation with local partners); identifying local partners; establishing a network of project partners; providing training and continuous support to the NHRI and other non-governmental actors; and managing the development of the localised HRCA check.
Each capacity building project is designed for maximum sustainability and local ownership. Training programs and localized project materials are created for long-range implementation and a deepening engagement with the private sector. At the end of the project, the local NHRI or focal point is given responsibility over the future of the project, and a local network is built around the issue of business and human rights. The localized tool can be implemented by local businesses with the help of the NGO network.
The following is adapted from 'CSR in the Western Balkans: Opportunities and Challenges' by Mike Baab and Marie Busck of the Human Rights and Business Project.
Corporate Social Responsibility in the Western Balkans A central element in the localisation process of the Quick Check to the Balkans was to ensure that the Balkan Quick Check adequately addresses prevalent CSR and human rights & business issues in the region. For that purpose, the first step in the localisation process was to conduct individual country risk briefings. The briefings were based on information from international human rights groups, as well as the expertise of local organisations of the Balkan Human Rights & Business Focal Group. Each briefing identified corporate human rights risk areas in a Western Balkan country. The briefings revealed that in spite of some national differences, many human rights and business issues are shared by the countries in the region, justifying the development of a regional tool. Collectively, the briefings indicated that the tool should place particular emphasis on the following issues: Discrimination and exclusion of vulnerable groups (i.e. ethnic and religious minorities including the Roma and the disabled); forced labour and trafficking; property revocation and environmental damage; corruption and bribery; general terms of employment; working conditions; and trade union rights. The Employment Practices section addresses the rights of employees and looks into areas such as forced labour and trafficking; child labour and young workers; non-discrimination; freedom of association; workplace health and safety and conditions of employment and work (hours, wages, leave, privacy, dismissals, etc). The Community Impact section addresses the rights of local communities affected by company operations and looks into areas such as security arrangements, land acquisition, environmental health and safety, corruption and bribery and company products. Finally, the Supply Chain Management section addresses how the company manages its suppliers, contractors and other business partners.
Since the 1990s, the Western Balkans have developed from post-conflict societies to new democracies and transitional economies. A process of social and economic change is now taking place and is being pushed forward by EU integration. The development in the post-socialist states has seen a shift from centrally planned economies towards privatisation and market-based economies, and most Western Balkan countries are experiencing growth and macroeconomic stability. Nevertheless, while this transition has brought new economic and social opportunities, the region remains plagued by a number of challenges, not least high levels of corruption, organised crime and an expanding grey economy. Socio-economic problems, such as a weakening social welfare system, poor access to health care and social services and an alarmingly high unemployment have also emerged as negative side-effects of the transition process.
Against this background, CSR remains a new and somewhat marginal concept among business in the Western Balkans. While the communist past did involve a perception of a businesses’ responsibility to support the needs of society, the transition to capitalism and competition almost immediately reduced involvement in community development and discarded activities not seen as critical for economic performance. Even though some businesses before the 1990s collapse were involved in social projects and community development, using CSR as a competitive advantage is new to many Balkan businesses. Therefore, CSR in the Western Balkans has largely been characterised by philanthropy—corporate donations and sponsorships of community projects, cultural events and vulnerable groups—and not as a responsibility towards stakeholders. A recent study by the UNDP concludes that in most Western Balkan countries, systematic governmental incentives and initiatives for CSR are lacking. The study also argues that NGOs and the media often lack the awareness, ability and organisational power to effectively put pressure on businesses and hold them accountable.
There are, however, signs of change, and while the above study concludes that there generally is a low level of awareness about CSR in the Western Balkans; it also argues that awareness is increasing. An important indication of this has been the establishment of national Global Compact networks in the region. As of today, Global Compact has been launched in Bulgaria (2003), Macedonia (2004), Bosnia-Herzegovina (2005), Serbia (2007) and Croatia (2007), and The UNDP has been the main driver for the launch of the Global Compact, and outreach activities have been the top priority to attract members and create awareness about the initiative. However, in some cases the local Global Networks have gone further. The Bulgarian Global Compact Network has, for example, brought together more than 120 members and in 2006 established an Advisory Board and a Secretariat to strengthen the network.
In addition to the Global Compact, a number of other business and NGO initiatives bear mentioning. The Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum (BBLF), for example, was established in 1998 with the aim of promoting socially responsible business practices and has about 220 Bulgarian and international members. In Serbia, the national CSR programme—the Responsible Business Initiative—was launched in 2004 and coordinated by the Fund for an Open Society, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the Smart Kolektiv. The aim of the initiative is to introduce the concept of CSR in Serbia and to stimulate multi-sector cooperation with the purpose of creating the potential for sustainable development of communities. The first part of the project has been engaging in public opinion research on the concept of CSR, as well as creating a database with examples of CSR practice in Serbia. The aim is to develop a national CSR strategy and CSR network. Similarly, the International Rescue Committee in Bosnia-Herzegovina launched a CSR initiative in 2004 with the purpose of promoting CSR as framework for partnerships between the CSOs, governmental businesses and private businesses.
The EU has initiated and supported a number of CSR programmes in the region, including ‘CSR and Competitiveness – European SMEs good Practice’; ‘CEASAR: CSR relays in Chambers of Commerce’ and Responsible Entrepreneurship in SMEs’.
These are just few examples of a growing number of CSR activities in the Western Balkan, and there is no doubt that while recognising that CSR is a new phenomenon in the region, it is emerging and will continue to grow over the next few decades.
The remaining part of this introduction will focus on the cooperation between BHRN and DIHR on CSR and human rights and business.
The Balkan Human Rights and Business Project
The Human Rights and Business Department was established in 1999 as a form of cooperation between the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), the Danish Industrialisation Fund for Developing Countries and (IFU) the Danish Confederation of Industries (DI). The Department strives to combine the expertise of the human rights research community with the experience of the business community to develop concrete, achievable standards for companies and to help companies to live up to those standards in practice. One of the main activities of the Department is the development of operational human rights compliance and guidance tools for use in a business context. These tools include the Human Rights Compliance Assessment (HRCA)—a self-assessment tool designed to help companies assess the compliance of their business operations with international human rights. The HRCA is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and references more than 80 human rights and rights-related instruments. The tool was developed over a period of 6 years (1999-2005) and involved active input from more than 70 companies, 70 human rights/CSR organisations and 35 human rights experts.
The Quick Check is a condensed version of the full HRCA and addresses the most essential human rights issues for companies. The Quick Check is endorsed by the Global Compact and used by hundreds of companies in 59 countries. The tool can be applied to companies of all sizes, sectors and regions.
In 2006, the Balkan Human Rights Network and the Human Rights & Business Department initiated a joint project on human rights and business in the Balkans. The cooperation entailed the establishment of a Balkan Human Rights & Business Focal Group in 2007, representing the following organisations: the Albania Centre for Human Rights (Albania), the Association for Democratic Initiative (Macedonia), the Association for Democratic Initiative (Kosovo), the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (Serbia), the Rule of Law Institute (Bulgaria) and the Secretariat for the Balkan Human Rights Network (Bosnia-Herzegovina). The objective of the cooperation was promoting the respect for human rights by companies in the Balkan region through cooperation and capacity building of participating organisations to work with CSR and engage with business on human rights.
The Balkan Human Rights & Business Focal Group concentrates on two activities: First, CSR and human rights training and second, the development of the Balkan Quick Check. The objective was to develop a tool that would provide an effective assessment of Balkan companies’ human rights performance, while at the same time being time-limited, user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a business setting.
The Balkan Quick Check
The development of the Balkan Quick Check has involved close cooperation between representatives from the Human Rights & Business Department and the Balkan Human Rights & Business Focal Group and includes three sequential steps.
The second step in the localisation process was the assessment of each question from the generic Quick Check against the findings of country risk briefings and identified human rights and business issues. Non-applicable questions were removed and applicable questions were reformulated to apply to the Balkan context.
The third and final step in the development of the Balkan Quick Check was company testing of the tool’s draft version. Close interaction with companies through testing and consultation formed an intrinsic part of the development process of the full HRCA tool, and the same process was applied to the Balkan project. Overall, the testing and consultation on the Balkan Quick Check serves two main purposes. First, it ensures that the final tool responds to the needs of companies and becomes an operational and user-friendly tool that can easily be incorporated into a business setting. Secondly, it acts as awareness-raising, allowing companies to build their human rights capacity and establish ownership through testing and consultation. Two companies from each participating country have tested and consulted on the Balkan Quick Check. The testing has taken place in cooperation with individual organisations from the Balkan Human Rights & Business Focal Group, and comments from the companies and experiences from the testing have subsequently been incorporated into the final tool.
The Balkan Quick Check in its final version contains a total of 32 self-guiding questions and indicators, covering company policy, procedure and performance. The questions are organised in three sections:
Each question is accompanied by a narrative description that explains the purpose of the question and references the international law upon which the question is based. For each question, a number of indicators act as guidelines to help users determine how to answer to the main question. The tool operates with three types of indicators for each question—policy, procedure and performance. Policy indicators determine whether the company has policies or guidelines in place to address the human rights issue of concern in the main question. Procedural indicators determine whether the company has appropriate and sufficient procedures in place to implement the policies, and performance indicators provide rubrics for verification of the company’s performance on an issue.
Developed as a self-assessment tool for companies, the Balkan Quick Check fulfils a number of functions. First, the tool clarifies human rights implications in a business context and actualizes how companies can work with human rights. It therefore serves as a risk-management tool for detecting potential human rights violations and monitoring overall human rights performance. Second, the tool can be used as framework to improve identified human rights weaknesses. The questions and the indicators constitute a wealth of information on human rights responsibilities of companies and which policies and procedures companies should have in place. Third, the tool can be used as basis for internal and external stakeholder dialogue, for instance, as a framework for how a company is working with the Global Compact Principles.
The Balkan Quick Check is now ready for use, and the challenge for the future will be its wider application throughout the Western Balkans.
Conclusions and prospects for the future
CSR is a new, albeit emerging, phenomenon in the Balkan region, and the authors of this article firmly believe that the coming years will demonstrate a sharpening focus on CSR and the positive role that companies can play in the socio-economic development of the region. A number of challenges remain, however, and need to be taken seriously and confronted. The first is the challenge of generating greater awareness among companies, as well as governments, NGOs, labour organisations, consumer organisations, the media and other stakeholders about the importance of CSR. This expanded awareness will increase the pressure on companies to work with CSR strategically. The second challenge is to get more engagement from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Though the main drivers of CSR in the Balkans so far have been multinational companies, SMEs are essential conduits for economic development, and it is an important task to widen the Balkan CSR effort to include such actors. The third challenge is convincing national governments to create systematic CSR incentives. Though some national government ministries have begun to address CSR, these efforts have not been systematic. A clear, strong signal from governments would represent a major step forward for CSR in the Western Balkans. While these challenges are indeed significant, they are surmountable and should be deliberately confronted. The initiative and work of the Balkan Human Rights Network in the area of CSR and human rights & business constitutes an inspiring example of how this can be done.
A central element in the localisation process of the Quick Check to the Balkans was to ensure that the Balkan Quick Check adequately addresses prevalent CSR and human rights & business issues in the region. For that purpose, the first step in the localisation process was to conduct individual country risk briefings. The briefings were based on information from international human rights groups, as well as the expertise of local organisations of the Balkan Human Rights & Business Focal Group. Each briefing identified corporate human rights risk areas in a Western Balkan country. The briefings revealed that in spite of some national differences, many human rights and business issues are shared by the countries in the region, justifying the development of a regional tool. Collectively, the briefings indicated that the tool should place particular emphasis on the following issues: Discrimination and exclusion of vulnerable groups (i.e. ethnic and religious minorities including the Roma and the disabled); forced labour and trafficking; property revocation and environmental damage; corruption and bribery; general terms of employment; working conditions; and trade union rights.
The Employment Practices section addresses the rights of employees and looks into areas such as forced labour and trafficking; child labour and young workers; non-discrimination; freedom of association; workplace health and safety and conditions of employment and work (hours, wages, leave, privacy, dismissals, etc). The Community Impact section addresses the rights of local communities affected by company operations and looks into areas such as security arrangements, land acquisition, environmental health and safety, corruption and bribery and company products. Finally, the Supply Chain Management section addresses how the company manages its suppliers, contractors and other business partners.
For more information on the Balkan project or other capacity building activities, contact Claire O'Brien: COB [at] humanrights.dk