Businesses’ commitment to respecting human rights as described by the UN Guiding Principles was discussed in the “Towards a Common Agenda for Action” conference organised by Finland’s Presidency of the EU Council in Brussels on 2 December. I had the pleasure to represent UPM in a panel on the role of regulation in a smart mix of measures to foster responsible business conduct.
UPM is committed to the UN Guiding Principles and to meeting its responsibility to respect human rights. Our motivation to follow the Guiding Principles is rooted in our long-standing commitment to human rights through UPM Code of Conduct and commitment to Global Compact’s Ten Principles. We also share the ever growing concern of our stakeholders and this pushes us to work even harder on preventing human rights violations.
Respecting human rights is for UPM very much about risk mitigation. Human rights risks are first and foremost risks to people, but very much also an operational and reputational risk to business. Human rights risks, such as fatal accidents in own operations and child labour in the supply chains are included in our risk management process. We also report on our performance in preventing the harm on quarterly basis to UPM Board of Directors. Above all this, our ambitious target is to commit our 24 000 suppliers in the preventive work on human rights violations.
I’m confident that any smart business is willing to mitigate their risks. I’m more worried about whether companies understand what human rights due diligence really means in practice. UN Guiding Principles is a brilliant document, but at the same time pretty complicated/complex to understand by a non-expert. In order to effectively implement The Guiding Principles, let’s simplify the language and terminology first. We need to involve all types of businesses into this work. As they all do not have human rights experts in their organisation, we need to bring human right related topics closer to companies’ daily work and make them understandable for people working in sourcing, HR and risk management, for example This requires collaboration across industries and stakeholders, and a consensus on what is reasonable due diligence in various situations. Increasing understanding and fostering dialogue is a foundation for meaningful action.