Shifting Toward Business Practices to Address Human Rights: A Q&A with Caroline Rees

Shift President and Co-Founder Caroline Rees talks with Erb Institute about how companies can measure social performance, the mission of Shift and its most recent flagship project, Valuing Respect
Dec 11, 2018 4:00 PM ET

Shift is the leading center of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As a mission-driven organization, Shift works with companies, governments and other agents of change—around the globe—to help build a world where business gets done with respect for people’s dignity. Shift President and Co-Founder Caroline Rees talked with the Erb Institute about how companies can measure social performance, the mission of Shift and its most recent flagship project, Valuing Respect.

We know that measuring social performance and human rights impact is hard for companies. Where do we begin?

Businesses—like most organizations—thrive on metrics and indicators. They use them all the time: to measure sales, marketing campaigns, employee performance, you name it. But when it comes to valuing the impacts that their actions and decisions have on people’s dignity, they often hit a wall.

They simply do not know how to express the value of concepts that are largely qualitative and subjective. And they often miss the fact that qualitative information has great value if it is read correctly. For years, the easy answer has been to measure activities and their immediate outputs: the number of audits performed in their supply chains, the amount of dollars destined to social responsibility, the hours of training sessions delivered, or numbers of contracts with human rights clauses. But that doesn’t really tell us the most critical thing: Are companies truly making a difference?

If you are an investor, how can you tell what companies to have in your socially responsible portfolio? If you are an advocate, how do you know whether a business is taking its responsibility seriously and implementing actions that are actually incentivizing change?
The question of “Where do we begin?” is really what our latest flagship project, Valuing Respect, is all about.
Can you tell us more about Valuing Respect?
At its core, Valuing Respect is a collaborative platform to ask the question collectively of us all: How do we find more useful, more insightful and more valuable ways of understanding what is working? Unless we do that, resources will continue to be funneled into initiatives that don’t make a difference and insufficient resources put into initiatives that do. Valuing Respect is about bringing together bodies of research, experience, insight and practice to address this question of how to do a better job of evaluating business respect for human rights.