While companies are increasingly open to implementing sustainability standards, the practicalities of embedding human rights into company culture in the United States has proved more of a challenge, according to Howard Dorman, Partner at WeiserMazars in New York and champion of a fresh approach to reporting on human rights. His drive for pushing boundaries on human rights stems from the fact his parents worked in slave labor camps and were incarcerated in concentration camps during the Second World War, which led to a genuine belief in the idea that lessons of the past can help shape the future.
Team that up with a substantial background in social reporting and compliance and Dorman has both the expertise and passion to effect change. Here, he talks about current progress on human rights reporting.
What are the main challenges in getting US companies to address issues on human rights reporting?
HD: The US lags behind Europe on human rights reporting mainly because we are very much a rules-based market. This is a major challenge, as human rights reporting is not so much a ‘tick the box’ approach, but more about companies finding a way to develop a culture of respect and forward reporting mechanisms that address any gaps or failings in their approach to human rights. The practicalities of this are not easy as no company wants to report on what they are doing wrong for legal reasons, particularly in the US. But I see this as a challenge to change standard company reporting practice, rather than a barrier to change. There’s certainly no lack of enthusiasm for change, it’s more a question of helping companies navigate the practicalities of meeting the growing requirement for a more meaningful way to report on human rights issues.
How have you addressed these challenges and what reception has it had from companies?
HD: WeiserMazars, in conjunction with the Mazars Group as a whole, has been working on human rights reporting for several years now. We have been involved at stakeholder level (companies, NGO’s, government) and have worked closely with human rights experts, Shift, in helping companies embrace the goals of the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights. A principles based approach gives companies enough latitude to report on human rights in a way that reflects their own unique corporate structure, rather than having a standard set of rules to follow. Companies have been very receptive to our ideas and eager to understand what we are doing and how we do it. Of course, convincing companies in the US to move towards forward thinking and principle-based reporting is a work in progress, but we believe the collaboration between Shift and Mazars in developing the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (RAFI), is a huge step in moving things forward, particularly as this process has led to the development of the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework.
The UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework is a unique approach to reporting on human rights issues, what’s the buy-in for companies?
HD: Since we started work on this project in 2012, Richard Karmel and his team at Mazars, UK and our team at WeiserMazars decided not to offer a service that simply certifies a company is abiding by local laws on human rights. That is not what this is about; it’s about changing company behaviour. It’s not just about paying the minimum wage or being philanthropic, it’s about having real-time, forward-looking reporting processes in place to ensure that good working conditions and practices are reflected in your supply chain with your business partners and, if not, that you are able to make necessary changes.
Reporting processes are then measured for effectiveness externally, which can also recommend policy changes if necessary. It’s an assurance approach that stakeholders and investors increasingly want to see. And for companies that get it right, it offers both social value and brand protection. This is the buy-in for companies. The fact we have Unilever as a pilot company for the roll out of the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework speaks volumes in itself.
What do you see as the next steps?
HD: To coincide with the roll out of the framework, we are planning a series of leadership programmes in the US to guide companies through the practical aspects of adopting the framework. Leadership is key as without commitment from the top, implementing the framework is not as effective. The next step is to become the foremost service provider in this particular arena. The signs are we are well on our way, which is very exciting.
Howard Dorman. Partner and Leader of Social Reporting and Compliance. WeiserMazars.
Further reading on the topic: Mazars Unveils Major New Reporting Framework