Environmental and Human Rights Assume a New Urgency for Boards

The regulatory landscape around these issues is changing, and company leaders need to know.

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In 2015, regulators expressed two expectations of which both executive board members and directors should be aware.

First, at the June 2015 G7 Summit in Germany, the leaders of the G7 made a declaration that they “strongly support the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” (UN Guiding Principles). They added that they “urge private-sector implementation of human rights due diligence.” It is the responsibility of states to protect human rights, but what is clear is that regulators expect companies to respect human rights.

Second, the G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance (the G20/OECD Principles), an important global standard, have recently been updated to incorporate environmental and human rights risks. The G20/OECD Principles were published in September 2015 and endorsed by the G20 on November 11, 2015. They refer explicitly to environmental and human rights issues in the context of disclosure, board responsibilities, and internal controls. For example:

  • “(…) companies are encouraged to disclose policies and performance relating to business ethics, the environment and, where material to the company, social issues, human rights and other public policy commitments.”
  • “Another important board responsibility is to oversee the risk management system and systems designed to ensure that the corporation obeys applicable laws, including tax, competition, labour, environmental, equal opportunity, health and safety laws. (…) In addition, boards are expected to take due regard of, and deal fairly with, other stakeholder interests (…). Observance of environmental and social standards is relevant in this context.”
  • “Companies are also well advised to establish and ensure the effectiveness of internal controls, ethics, and compliance programmes or measures to comply with applicable laws, regulations, and standards (…). Other laws that may be applicable include those relating to taxation, human rights, the environment, fraud, and money laundering.”

The document also makes reference to other relevant standards and instruments, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles.

Why do these regulatory expectations matter for board members? They matter because it is the responsibility of boards to carefully chart the company’s journey through the ever-evolving risk landscape.

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Topics

Leading Sustainable Organizations

Corporate adoption of sustainable business practices is essential to a strong market environment and an enduring society. What does it mean to become a sustainable business and what steps must leaders take to integrate sustainability into their organization?
See All Articles in This Section

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