Press release

Jo Swinson pledges support for a new ranking of companies’ human rights performance

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Government pledges support for a new human rights benchmark that will rank the corporate human rights performance of international companies.

Business Minister Jo Swinson has put human rights at the heart of the corporate agenda by pledging government support, including £80,000 start-up funding, for a new human rights benchmark that will assess and rank the corporate human rights performance of international companies. The project has been established by an international group led by Aviva Investors.

Following discussion during a visit to Geneva for the United Nations’ Forum on Business and Human Rights, Jo Swinson is now urging more countries to support the scheme and ensure that the human rights performance of businesses throughout the world is assessed fairly and transparently.

Business Minister Jo Swinson said:

Companies’ human rights records are under increasing scrutiny. What they are doing to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our global society has a significant impact on their reputation. We want to create a ‘race to the top’ where companies that are taking effective action get recognition and those that are not can be held to account.

We are throwing our weight behind this benchmarking project, which will make it easy for people to understand corporate human rights performance, see how companies fare in the rankings and enable investors and regulators to challenge those whose performance is behind those of others.

I encourage other countries to join us in supporting the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, which will be an invaluable resource to protect the rights of vulnerable people in the UK and around the world.

The scheme’s sponsors have established the first wide-scale project to rank companies on their human rights performance. A total of 500 of the top global companies from 4 key sectors – agriculture, ICT, apparel, and extractives – will initially be researched and ranked.

Steve Waygood, Chair of the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark said:

We warmly welcome the UK government’s financial backing for this benchmark, which demonstrates continued leadership by BIS on the business and human rights agenda. The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark will play a major role in promoting the UK’s Business and Human Rights Action Plan‎, which itself was world leading. We hope more governments will now follow the UK’s lead in supporting this international benchmark.

The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark seeks to drive responsible business activities by developing a transparent, publicly available and credible benchmark of company human rights performance. The scheme will create a robust benchmark against which major global companies can be assessed. It will:

  • make corporate performance on human rights easier to see and simpler to understand
  • rank and reward companies doing well while highlighting poor performance of others
  • enable investors, society and regulators to challenge companies where performance lags behind that of their peers
  • introduce a positive competitive environment within which companies can operate

The scheme has been established and is being led by 6 corporations. These include 2 large investment houses, Aviva Investors and Calvert as well as VBDO, an association of investors for sustainable development, along with research agency EIRIS as well as the Institute for Human Rights and Business and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

These 6 leading organisations are joining forces to guide the development of this project. They have consulted with over 100 organisations around the world including companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments and investors on the proposition that such a new ranking of corporate human rights performance is timely and useful.

Over the next 3 years, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Steering Group will conduct a worldwide consultation on the methodology and results with diverse stakeholders, and will collect and release information on 500 companies’ human rights performance. The information will be made available through an open source, online portal to empower the range of business and human rights advocates among companies, investors, governments, local communities and NGOs.

From 2016 the first companies will be able to track their performance on human rights, with more businesses being added in future.

Notes to editors:

The Steering Group of the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark

Press contact: Stephen Hine, 07725 594 533, Stephen.Hine@eiris.org

  1. Aviva Investors is the global asset management business of Aviva plc. The business delivers investment management solutions and services to clients worldwide. Aviva Investors operates in 15 countries in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and the United Kingdom with assets under management of £240 billion as at 31 September 2014.
  2. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive & negative) of over 5,600 companies in over 180 countries making information available on its 7 language website.
  3. Calvert Investments is an investment management firm and leader in sustainable and responsible investment strategies.
  4. EIRIS is a global leader in the provision of environmental, social, governance (ESG) research for responsible investors.
  5. The Institute for Human Rights and Business is a global “think and do” tank that provides a trusted, impartial space for dialogue and independent analysis to deepen understanding of human rights challenges and the appropriate role of business.
  6. VBDO is the Dutch association of investors for sustainable development that aims at a sustainable capital market, considering financial as well as non-financial ESG criteria. See more at ‘launch of the first wide-scale business and human rights benchmarking and ranking project’