United States: The Advent Of Privately Developed Corporate Human Rights Reporting Frameworks

Last Updated: September 10 2015
Article by John Kloosterman, Stefan Marculewicz and Michael G. Congiu

The United Nations adoption in 2011 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ("Guiding Principles") signified a growing consensus that corporate entities have a responsibility to account for their operations' impact on human rights. In the time since the Guiding Principles' adoption, there has been a flurry of activity within civil society, and at government and company levels, regarding appropriate implementation.

One product of this activity has been the development and marketing of various potentially competing reporting frameworks to measure companies' commitment to implementing the Guiding Principles. However, these frameworks present challenges for companies.

Two examples are the UNGP Reporting Framework that was recently launched by the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (also known by the acronym "RAFI")1 and the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (the "Human Rights Benchmark").2 The UNGP Reporting Framework and the Human Rights Benchmark are in relatively nascent stages of implementation and development. Both have expanded upon commonly known reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative ("GRI"). Further, they each present some competing requirements.

Nevertheless, the frameworks, and the broader extension of formal reporting compliance with the Guiding Principles, present challenges regarding whether "human rights" or "performance" under the Guiding Principles can be meaningfully measured and reported. These questions, in context, illustrate just one facet of a growing discussion regarding the appropriate scope of business responsibility for human rights concerns.

Setting the Stage -- The Guiding Principles

The Guiding Principles3 comprise three pillars: (1) clarifying the existing role of states to protect human rights; (2) ensuring that business entities respect human rights; and (3) ensuring the proper access to remedies for human rights violations. The UNGP Reporting Framework and the Human Rights Benchmark focus on the second and third pillars, and may ultimately be used to measure a particular company's compliance with them.

Though the Guiding Principles may be adopted by any entity, they qualify that compliance can and should vary by the size and complexity of a particular entity's operations.4 Within that context, the Guiding Principles instruct that all adopting entities should implement a "statement of policy" demonstrating commitment to respecting human rights and developing transparent "due diligence" mechanisms to ensure that human rights are properly respected throughout the entity's operations.5 Such mechanisms, like a statement of policy, should be prepared with the involvement of the entity's internal personnel, with assistance from external experts, and with "meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders."6

Additionally, under the third pillar of the Guiding Principles, entities are instructed to effectively and timely remediate any "severe human rights impacts" to which they have caused or contributed.7

The Advent of Privately Developed Corporate Human Rights Reporting Frameworks

RAFI's UNGP Reporting Framework

RAFI was jointly developed by the non-profit organization Shift, which focuses on issues related to the Guiding Principles, and the global accounting firm Mazars.8 RAFI launched the UNGP Reporting Framework in 2015 that has gained some acceptance among some larger multinational companies, which have begun using it to report on their human rights commitments.

RAFI, however, has not escaped criticism. The International Organisation of Employers ("IOE"), for example, while expressing its commitment to support the Guiding Principles' implementation, expressed legitimate concerns when RAFI was initially introduced. The IOE expressed, for example, that formally reporting "compliance" with the deliberately flexible and subjective Guiding Principles – and then "verifying" compliance as financial data can be measured – may be problematic and counterproductive.9

The Human Rights Benchmark

The Human Rights Benchmark was developed recently by a number of investment groups in combination with certain civil society organizations, and with the financial backing of the United Kingdom10 and Dutch governments.11 A work in progress that has not been finalized, it proposes metrics that go well beyond those contained in the UNGP Reporting Framework. Further, the Human Rights Benchmark focuses only on the 500 largest companies in the world, in contrast to the Guiding Principles' application to all business entities. The Human Rights Benchmark, most fundamentally, calls into question the sufficiency and efficacy of RAFI's UNGP Reporting Framework by presenting companies with a potentially competing set of reporting guidelines.

Significant concerns also exist concerning the substance of its proposed guidelines, including the following:

  • The Human Rights Benchmark measures whether an employer remains "neutral" with respect to union organizing campaigns. Neutrality is a uniquely U.S. phenomenon, and can be interpreted as requiring silence on the part of employers in the context of union organizing efforts. That concept, though, is inconsistent with the principles of freedom of association as they are defined and understood at the international level. Indeed, it is widely believed that the free exchange of ideas, information and opinions are fundamental to the existence of a free-trade union movement. This "neutrality" metric therefore eschews the notion that principles of freedom of association, as defined at the international level, promote the free exchange of information and ideas regardless of their source or affinity. The Human Rights Benchmark thus encourages freedom of expression and opinion at the international level so long as its manifestation does not interfere with an employee's free choice to be represented, or not represented, by a union.
  • The Human Rights Benchmark also includes a metric measuring whether the company "faces criticism or negative news stories related to Labour and Human Rights" or has responded to similar reports. However, a report, and even more cryptically, a "criticism," does not necessarily equate to an actual adverse human rights impact contemplated by the Guiding Principles, and allowing unsubstantiated reports to affect a company's "rating" does not appear to further the Guiding Principles' effective implementation.
  • Similarly, the requirement that a company report every claim relating to certain International Labour Organization conventions, as well as accompanying reports on "corrective actions taken," presupposes the legitimacy of every claim that is raised and that every claim requires some corrective action.12 Again, questions remain regarding whether this metric furthers the Guiding Principles.

Looking Forward

Increasingly, companies will need to be aware of different reporting guidelines, and they must prepare to field inquiries from investors and other groups regarding the company's position on, and commitment to, human rights and those guidelines.

RAFI, its UNGP Reporting Framework, and the Human Rights Benchmark, and perhaps future initiatives or frameworks, may be designed to help employers with these important issues. Companies trying to fulfill their legitimate obligations in this important arena need to carefully and thoughtfully parse these differing guidelines and protocols to ensure that they do not incur unintended conflict and expense.


1. See Shift, Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative - RAFI.

2. See The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (June 2015).

3. United Nations, Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011).

4. Guiding Principle 16.

5. Guiding Principle 17, 21.

6. Guiding Principles 18, 20.

7. Guiding Principle 22.

8. See Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative – RAFI, supra note 1.

9. IOE Comments On The Mazars And Shift Discussion Paper On A Global Reporting And Assurance Standard On The Un Guiding Principles On Business And Human Rights (June 28, 2013). In 2013, the IPIECA, for its part, also noted that: "[d]eveloping a 'Standard' on Human Rights is inconsistent with the spirit of the UNGPs. It suggests a prescriptive approach, which was explicitly not the intention of the UNGPs." See, e.g., Developing Global Standards for the Reporting and Assurance of Company Alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: IPIECA Feedback on SHIFT/Mazars discussion paper.

10. The DailyMail.com, Government backing rights project, (Dec. 17, 2014).

11. See The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, supra note 2.

12. See id., also raising concerns about the CHRB's land use, living wage, and other metrics.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

John Kloosterman
Michael G. Congiu
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.