Benefiting from a leading human rights organization

ABB joined the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights (GBI) shortly after its foundation in 2009, believing we could contribute to and learn from a business-led organization focusing on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.

The GBI, arguably the leading and most experienced such organization in this field, comprises 18 cross-sectoral multinational companies from around the world. Its mission is to advance human rights in a business context through cross-industry peer learning, outreach and capacity building, and by informing government policy.

ABB has benefited from such work in many ways. Participating in outreach sessions with business leaders in China, India and Malaysia, for example, has led to a greater understanding of different cultural approaches to human rights implementation by our customers, suppliers and other business partners. This has had an influence on how experts within ABB approach in-house training programs.

GBI member companies gain and learn from each other during focused discussions. A meeting in the United States in 2015, for example, included sessions on implementing corporate strategies on human rights, capacity building and training, due diligence challenges, tracking human rights performance and grievance mechanisms – all issues raised by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and all central to embedding the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in business practice. Similarly, being updated at GBI meetings about national and international policy and legal developments has provided some very useful “take-homes” for the company, which have been integrated in training programs and briefings.

One of the most practical areas of GBI work is the peer learning sessions on individual challenges raised by member companies during meetings. Considerable time is allocated to reviewing a company’s particular dilemma by critical friends in a “safe space.” Other companies’ approaches, tools and practices are also examined. ABB has learned from these sessions, and has also taken advantage of the opportunity in the past to receive expert input on its indirect involvement in a dam project in south-east Asia.

Since its inception, the GBI has become an acknowledged leader on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, based on the diverse experiences of its individual members. It has become increasingly confident in its role of informing policy on the role of business, reflected in its involvement in key events in different parts of the world.

“Companies like ABB bring a wealth of experience from different geographies to the debate, and contribute much to the exchanges and learning which are the corner-stone of this organization,” says GBI Executive Director Mark Hodge. “Our members are modest about their achievements but are actually tackling some of the main business and human rights issues in an increasingly mature and assured way.”

The GBI members are supported by a dedicated secretariat and several expert advisors.