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Dec 17, 2015

Online privacy and forced labor among key concerns for 2016

List of top 10 human rights issues for companies in 2016 includes discrimination and climate change

Discrimination, forced labor, online privacy and the effects of climate change are among the top 10 human rights issues businesses will have to face in 2016 amid increasing pressure for investment along ESG lines, according to the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB).

The IHRB, which focuses on the relationship between business and human rights standards, includes in its list the persecution by states of human rights defenders, the implementation of UN sustainable development goals, cross-border human rights agreements and access to effective remedy of human rights abuse cases. 

‘The year ahead will likely see more companies stepping forward to promote diversity and fight prejudice,’ the institute says of the discrimination topic in its top 10 list. ‘This includes efforts to address ongoing discrimination and violence against women ‒ who are often precarious underpaid workers ‒ under-rewarded community and family members of vulnerable human rights defenders.’

It also says companies will face in 2016 the challenge of sustaining momentum in the fight against forced labor and human trafficking after a series of recent gains in the area. The UK set an example with its Modern Slavery Act, which will require companies with global revenues of more than $58 mn to publish annual, board-approved statements to disclose steps they have taken to prevent slavery and human trafficking in their businesses, the institute says.

Companies’ use of ‘big data’ gleaned over the internet is a topic that will take on increasing importance in 2016 as it becomes more invasive and raises questions of consumer privacy, the institute adds. 

‘There is minimal guidance available to help companies navigate this issue, and confusion over what kind of data is collected, how it is used and how it is stored,’ the IHRB says on its website. ‘In 2016, the IHRB will be exploring meaningful avenues for rights protection in an age of big data across a number of sectors.’

Companies will also face rising pressure to improve reporting on human rights as a separate issue, and not just under the broader umbrella of ESG reporting, the institute says.

‘The year ahead will see continued uptake of the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, which helps companies demonstrate their implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,’ the top 10 list notes. ‘Similarly, the Global Reporting Initiative is increasingly focused on human rights issues in its activities.’