ESG briefing: Tackling Human Rights

December 20193 min readESG

Today is Human Rights Day.

History: Did you know, that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed in 1948, same year as Mahatma Gandhi’s death?

The term “human rights” encompasses every individual’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms. These freedoms are inherent to all human beings irrespective of nationality, gender or religion. Many areas are considered basic human rights: From equal pay for equal work, to the right to education, to the freedom of expression, etc.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of international human rights protection. It was developed a few years after World War II and after the United Nations had been created. It was put together by representatives from many countries with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions around the world and was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly exactly 71 years ago. Over the years, the Declaration has been translated into national laws and regulations worldwide.

Human rights today: The world has come a long way in protecting human rights for people around the world but, unfortunately, even the most fundamental rights are, in many places, under threat – particularly where conflicts, violent behavior, environmental crisis’ etc. cause such rights to be undermined.

According to the NGO; Human Rights Watch, many countries still don’t respect basic human rights such as the freedom of speech, women’s rights or the freedom of association, and this is particularly happening (although not exclusively) in developing countries.

Organizations and private companies that have operations in developing countries also have additional responsibilities to ensure that basic human rights are respected. But as the concept of human rights is very complex, wide ranging, and for many, intangible to measure, it can be difficult for organizations to implement an effective procedure to ensure that human rights are respected. Defining what human rights are, is therefore a key aspect when addressing this issue.

Human rights and responsability: For us at responsAbility, human rights cover the topics of fair employment, local communities’ rights, health and safety, and no environmental degradation. When investing in companies and projects in emerging markets, we actively assess these specific topics as a part of our ESG activities. Here, we not only look at the investees themselves, but we also aim to assess the supply chains of the investees, as the most profound issues regarding human rights typically occur here.

A good example of how we assess human rights and engage with our investees is the financing of solar PV projects. In parallel with the investment process, we assess the labor conditions, health and safety for the employees, we ensure that the surrounding communities’ (including indigenous peoples) voices are heard and rights are expected, we assess whether the human rights are respected in the supply chain operations, and finally, we ensure that no environmental degradation will occur as a consequence of the solar PV construction, operation and decommissioning.

If we identify any gaps between the performance of the investee and our requirements, we actively engage with the investee to address the issues to ensure that the fundamental human rights are respected.

In addition, we constantly update our systems to ensure that we are continuously incorporating the protection of the human rights into our investments.