Is it time for Human Rights to be included as a mainstream Sustainability Indicator?

This year’s Nobel Prize for peace was given to three amazing women; two from the West African Nation Liberia and one extraordinarily courageous lady from Yemen, the face of the Arab Spring in the strife hit country, where an extremist was droned a few days back.  There is a common strand, connecting the three women, they come from strife afflicted conflict areas and they advocate the virtues of human rights, development and democracy. This is a stamp of approval for Human rights in a huge way as was the Nobel was for Dr. Yunus for Microfinance.  Human Rights has often been area for Moral Entrepreneurs in the Third Sector- Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the big players in this ‘ethical business’. If Environmental Stewardship can be institutionalized through ISO 14001 and there can be sustainable forestry standards, why can’t we ensure corporate stewardship for ethical behavior. Some elements of Sustainability reporting do incorporate social variables in their analysis as corporate social responsibility measures and initiatives. This does not go far enough by any measure.

Human Rights protection is crucial as large global companies are venturing out in to the far flung areas of the globe  to search for raw materials, manufacturing centers and markets.  Most of the mineral rich areas in India are heavily under forest cover and are dominated by indigenous groups (tribals) like the Santhals in states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Powerful global mining majors like POSCO, Jindals and the Vedantas have their projects stalled and delayed in this region because of native people movements.  The infamous case of ‘Blood Diamonds’ which was made into a film, which impacted diamond sales internationally gave way to the Kimberley Process for approving ethical, non conflict origin diamonds.

The iconic tech company Apple Inc. has been under the scanner for outsourcing its manufacturing to Foxconn in China, which has been accused for using child labor in manufacturing of their products.  High Street Fashion labels have been maligned too for getting their manufacturing done cheaply in third world sweatshops, and charging a bomb from the consumer.  The Sports Industry is another case in point. The list is endless. Human Rights violations seems to be a byproduct of the cowboy globalization. It is high time that industry reclaims the moral pedestal. Good human rights, make for excellent branding and hence better bottom line. Makes sense isn’t it ?

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