Own Your Impact: Actions to Stand up for Human Rights

Dec 10, 2019 1:35 PM ET
Blog

This blog is posted on behalf of Mike McDonnell, Supply Chain Sustainability Senior Manager. Mike has been assessing supplier risks including human rights violations and environmental impact for more than 8 of his 23 years at Intel. He is dedicated to continuously improving Intel’s supply chain for the workers in it.

Most people assume big brand and well-known companies must be operating ethically or every news channel would be talking about them. Unfortunately, this is not a safe assumption. In fact, 4 in 10 companies are failing human rights standards according to the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) [1]. While a company’s direct employees might be treated well and their products pass safety tests, their supply chain can tell a very different story. Forced labor, unsafe working conditions, and unclear sources of materials are disturbingly common. The CHRB found that the majority of clothing and agricultural companies are failing to do enough to prevent child labor, which is disheartening to say the least.

Why is this happening? Most companies don’t look into their supply chain much, either by genuine unawareness, perceived lack of time or funding for true diligence, or simply fear of seeing something they don’t want to deal with.

With so much unknown to you as an individual consumer, what can you do to make a difference? Here are some ways you can help raise awareness and take action to stand up for human rights.

Know where your money is going.

  • Research your favorite brands. Look at your favorite brand’s website for supply chain responsibility and information on their human rights principles, like this site from Intel. Companies who care about the rights of people directly and indirectly (via their supply chain) employed by them will have a corporate responsibility webpage or CSR report posted online. Tracking suppliers, materials, and workers is a lot of work so if the company goes through this effort, they will share at least some info about their practices. If you can’t find anything of this nature, that is a sign there may be hidden human rights violations you want to avoid supporting. A little research will allow you to judge for yourself if it is a company you want to support with your purchases.
  • Check a few human rights awards lists. There are organizations who rate and rank companies on ethical behavior, including human rights factors. This can make it easy to see who is doing the work. Companies usually have to submit to these lists, so they are not all inclusive, but companies often provide deeper data to the awarding organizations then to the general public to ensure they are credited for their efforts. You can get started with JUST Capital’s Most JUST Companies, Corporate Knights’ Global 100, Ethisphere’s Most Ethical Companies, or do an online search for ethical corporation rankings. These can open your eyes to companies you want to support and make you question why one of your favorite brands didn’t make the cut.
  • Look at your stock plans. Even if you aren’t active on Wall Street, you are probably investing. 401K plans are built on a mix of company stocks that we don’t think much about. However, there are growing numbers of socially conscious stock fund options (often called environmental, social governance (ESG) funds) consisting of stocks of companies doing business a little better. The options are still limited, but the demand is growing, therefore the options are too. Talk to your company’s human resources department, an advisor at your 401k holding company, or a third-party retirement counselor for specific socially responsible investing (SRI) options available to you, and feel better about where your retirement funds are coming from.

Use your social network for good.

  • Sign a petition. Organizations like Amnesty, the Human Rights CampaignChange.org, and Care2 all collect signatures for petitions to stand up to human rights violations. Add your name and voice to a petition that resonates with you. This simple action helps show the collective desire for change and builds public pressure for companies, governments, and citizens involved to act.
  • Use your social network for good. First, follow some human rights focused organizations to stay up to date on campaign efforts and current challenges around the world. Then, share a petition you signed, the universal declaration of human rights (in more than 500 languages), or any posts you like from the human rights organizations you started following. You can educate people in your sphere of influence, stay up to date on human rights issues, and amplify the good work of organizations you support.

Human Rights Day is just one day a year. It is important we are taking action every day to depend, protect, and promote the human rights of everyone. I am lucky to be able to work with the name of Intel behind me to push global suppliers to treat their workers better. But our daily purchases and individual decisions have a lot of power too. Vote with your dollars and use your social influence for positive impact. I’d love to hear what actions you take to make an impact every day until Human Rights Day 2020.

[1] World Benchmarking Alliance. “4 in 10 Companies Failing on Human Rights” Web Accessed December 3, 2019. https://www.worldbenchmarkingalliance.org/4-in-10-companies-failing-on-human-rights/