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Article | 05/14/2019 06:22:31

Assessing human rights through stakeholder engagement in Uruguay

UPM works systematically to ensure that human rights are respected across the value chain. In 2018, we took an important step forward in Uruguay to identify salient human rights issues specifically relevant for our Fray Bentos site. The work was conducted with the assistance of Shift, the non-profit organisation and the leading centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

In 2017, an initial human rights assessment was conducted at all of UPM’s 75 operational sites globally with the assistance of Shift. The work was part of UPM’s human rights due diligence programme and provided further guidance how to identify and review the most salient human rights issues for UPM and what are the recommended actions locally in our various sites.

“We wanted to continue the work with Shift and decided to conduct the first local human rights risk assessment in our Uruguay operations. Our aim was to learn and increase our capacity to address human rights topics locally, and to strengthen our dialogue with local stakeholders,” says Päivi Salpakivi-Salomaa, Director, Stakeholder Relations, UPM Uruguay.

“UPM is a significant employer in Uruguay and the company has a high impact on local society. This is why it is important to understand the effects our operations have on people in all aspects, so we are able to support social development locally, as well as minimise and prevent potential negative effects,” she notes. 

Topics such as management systems, working conditions, contractor management and community engagement were included in the assessment. It focused on collaboration with various stakeholders, such as employees, contractors, local communities, plantations and nurseries.  The impact of UPM’s operations on people, society and environment in Uruguay, particularly on human rights, was considered. The emphasis was on continuous improvement of cooperation with local stakeholders.

Identifying and assessing potential and actual human rights impacts is the first step in an ongoing human rights due diligence process, which is undertaken in order to help companies fulfill their responsibility to respect human rights and prevent and address harm to people,” defines Lloyd Lipsett, Advisor with Shift.

“The local assessment helps translate the concept of human rights into tangible actions. What does it mean in our day-to-day job? Once the assessment of potential impacts is done, the actions responding to these risks to people need to be defined, implemented and communicated to relevant stakeholders. Also tracking the effectiveness of these actions is an important part of the process.  

UPM is seen as a responsible partner, a good neighbour and an employer of choice

The goal of the assessment was to increase UPM’s internal capacity and awareness about what human rights due diligence entails. The assessment included interviews, site visits, workshops and a review of human rights related UPM documents.

“It was positive to observe that UPM has strong commitment to international standards, not only for human rights but also to environmental performance and social issues. UPM’s participation in a number of certification processes and internal auditing are one element in continuous assessment of human rights risks. Based on our site visit, there seems to be a high level of internal awareness and attention to the main aspects of human rights by the local management team, which I was glad to see” says Lloyd Lipsett.

UPM received good feedback on embedding human rights in its policies, management systems and certification processes. The existing management systems, along with a variety of internal and external assessment processes, provide strong building blocks for ongoing human rights due diligence aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Lloyd Lipsett mentions that the contractor management system was highlighted as a special area in the assessment.

“UPM has very rigorous contractor management system in Uruguay, which includes regular field inspections and audits of working conditions of different contractors. It is supported by  very strong and detailed record keeping of details such as the work hours and contractors’ wages. That was very interesting to observe and learn from. Many companies struggle with how to work with their contractors and ensure that contractors’ rights are respected in the supply chain, and standards are followed.”

Based on Shift’s recommendation, UPM has identified areas which require work in Uruguay and continues the dialogue with various stakeholders on how to ensure human rights continue to be respected.

 

Text: Petra Niemi