Operationalizing human rights in Colombia

Apart from ongoing work at a Group level, efforts are under way in individual countries to operationalize the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which includes the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. In Colombia, for example, ABB joined a Swiss government-led initiative to implement the Guiding Principles in the Colombian context.

Along with 16 other Swiss companies operating in Colombia, ABB committed to incorporate human rights and international humanitarian law into its operations, following a lengthy period of discussions with representatives of the businesses involved in the initiative, as well as civil society and the government.

Three key areas of work, agreed by the businesses involved, are covered by guidelines on non-discrimination and inclusion, transparency and environmental protection. The guidelines, designed to cover companies of all sizes and sectors, include tools to identify and measure a company’s performance.

Detailed questionnaires form the backbone of the guidelines, enabling companies to carry out an in-depth gap analysis of their policies and practices in each of the three areas. There are also helpful step-by-step flow charts covering business due diligence, and how to incorporate transparency and environmental issues in business management.

Within ABB, three inter-disciplinary groups met in 2014 to analyze the questions in the three guidelines and see where there are gaps in the company’s performance in Colombia. Staff members were kept informed through internal communications about the work and its aims. Late in the year, the management team was invited to a half-day workshop to better understand the ABB sustainability strategy, the human rights highlighted in the guidelines and the company’s potential impact on those rights.

ABB in Colombia will now start filling in the questionnaires (which are available online in English and Spanish) and take steps to close the gaps that have been identified. Under the guidelines, companies are expected to set out their priority areas of work, and seek continuous improvement.