The Magazine of Corporate Responsibility

Opinion: The GRI Misses Some Critical Human Rights Issues

by Dunstan Allison Hope
Managing Director, Advisory Services, BSR

Egyptian Protesters, April 2011.

I’m a big fan of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). For more than a decade their sustainability reporting guidelines have helped shift corporate transparency on sustainability performance in a very positive direction, and there has been a massive uptake in the use of the guidelines by companies worldwide. If the GRI didn’t already exist, it would surely need to be invented.

But one thing continues to bug me: The GRI seems to completely ignore two of the most significant human rights issues of our time—freedom of expression and privacy—and hasn’t kept pace with the significant social and economic shifts that have resulted from the explosion of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry.

Last week, I read the recently published exposure draft of the next generation (G4) GRI Guidelines and was struck by two things:

• The human rights section of the guidelines lists many specific human rights issues—such as equality, labor rights, and indigenous rights—but neglects to mention the civil and political rights that arguably helped drive so much of the Arab spring.

• Despite today’s data-rich world, there remains only one indicator on privacy—PR8 for the reporting geeks, an indicator that is completely inadequate and unused by companies, yet remains unchanged since the G3 Guidelines.

At the same time, experimentation in public reporting on freedom of expression and privacy by some companies today—such as the Google and Twitter Transparency Reports, which quantify and describe their response to government demands for content removal and personal information—demonstrates huge opportunities for innovation.

The counter views are that these metrics are specific to ICT companies and that ICT companies have simply not been proactive enough in bringing these ideas forward. I don’t buy the first explanation for a minute, since all companies hold our personal information. The second justification has merit, however, and the ICT industry shares a portion of the blame. I shared my viewpoints during an earlier round of G4 consultation, but perhaps I was in a small minority.

My point is this: Sustainability and business will continue to be transformed by ICT, yet the draft G4 suggests that the GRI Guidelines continue to be written primarily for companies that extract and make stuff—and not for companies that are shaping the new global economy. As part of the G4 revisions two mutually re-enforcing things should happen: The GRI needs to more actively consider the impacts of ICT on what sustainability issues are material to all companies, and ICT companies need to constructively propose disclosures that are increasingly relevant for today’s world.

Photo: by Krzysztof Urbanowicz via Flickr.

Dunstan Allison Hope is a Managing Director, Advisory Services, at BSR.  He works with a diverse range of companies—including those in the information and communications technology (ICT), consumer products, and heavy manufacturing sectors—on corporate responsibility issues such as human rights, reporting, sustainability strategy, and stakeholder engagement.   This article was first published on the BSR blog and is re-published with permission.

 

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