Human rights Integrating respect for human rights into our business

ABB’s commitment to responsible business practices includes respecting and promoting human rights as expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights. We support the principles contained within the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Core Conventions on Labour Standards, and we are committed to implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) throughout our operations and our value chain. These commitments are underpinned by the ABB Code of Conduct, the Supplier Code of Conduct and the Human Rights policy and statement, which clearly set forth our expectations for every individual who works for ABB or engages with us as a business partner or through our supply chain.

To ensure that we understand our stakeholders’ expectations and improve our effectiveness in safeguarding human rights, we stay in close contact with a wide variety of stakeholders, including customers, investors, suppliers, civil society representatives and international organizations. Our Group also engages with and learns from human rights specialists. These activities include peer learning reviews at the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights and participation in the annual United Nations stakeholder forum in Geneva, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and local network meetings of the UN Global Compact.

Our goal is for human rights to be well understood and managed in all ABB operations along the full value chain and integrated into ABB’s daily business. To achieve this goal, we have developed a five-year plan for human rights activities that focuses on capacity building, risk identification and management, and monitoring performance. Early in 2021, we established a human rights working group to better support the implementation of our human rights plan. The working group consists of a representative from each Business Area and the Group Head of Corporate Responsibility and aims to ensure operational management review and coordination, to share best practices and monitor and report performance progress. The working group reports to the ABB Sustainability Council.

Building ABB’s internal capacity regarding human rights

In 2021, we continued the extensive capacity-building program that we launched in 2019. This program targets both management and functional roles to raise awareness of human rights at all levels of our organization and to embed human rights expertise within each Business Area and Division.

Over the past year, we trained an additional 93 candidates to join our Human Rights Champions Network. These champions provide advice to our businesses on how to identify, mitigate and avoid human rights risks, among other activities. We continued to make general human rights awareness training available to all ABB employees and managers and to provide targeted trainings and customized programs for management and job roles specifically exposed to human rights risks. 

At the end of 2021, we surveyed our network to assess the effectiveness of training programs and to understand where further support or improvement were needed. While the results were encouraging regarding content and delivery, we also identified areas for improvement, such as the need to further define the role of the champions and to provide more practical case studies and online content to facilitate continuous learning. 

Human rights training and capacity building in 2021
Human rights training and capacity building in 2021
Human rights training and capacity building in 2021 (pie chart)

Strengthening human rights risk management and mitigation processes

Human rights criteria are part of the standard risk review process for screening major ABB projects, for prequalification and assessment work with ABB suppliers, and for examining potential mergers and acquisitions. We are continually evaluating and adjusting these processes to ensure they meet legal requirements and the expectations of ABB’s stakeholders.

To this end, in addition to the Group-wide initiative to develop new risk assessment methods for both our sales channels and supplier relationships, in 2021, we introduced a new review criterion based on country risk to reinforce our risk screening process for major projects. We also launched a program for conducting human rights self-assessments at selected ABB sites. In total, 50 sites in 26 countries undertook the assessments. This program will be expanded in 2022.

To address human rights risks related to our suppliers, we rely on our Sustainable Supply Base Management (SSBM) system and our conflict minerals management program. For further information on these two programs, please refer to “Responsible Sourcing” in this report.

Due to the various projects underway across ABB to reinforce our risk identification and management processes, we postponed our planned review of ABB’s salient human rights risks. However, our Motion Business Area undertook a pilot project to identify its own human rights risks, which it then used to reinforce its internal human rights governance structure and to set business-specific objectives. You can read more about this initiative in the case study below. 

The results of Motion's project confirmed earlier findings that the main human rights issues of concern vary by business sector, portfolio, geographic location and the business partners we engage with directly or indirectly. In supply chains, the main human rights issues of interest include child labor, human trafficking and modern slavery, fair employment conditions, and health and safety. In customer-related business, the main issues include modern slavery, fair employment, impact on communities, and business-specific risks. Across ABB’s operations, the main issues of interest include discrimination, fair employment, and health and safety.

ABB’s 2021 human rights performance

In 2021, we reinforced ABB’s internal reporting and allegation management processes concerning any alleged violations of ABB's Code of Conduct, including matters relating to human rights. As a result, we received more reports, saw better cooperation during our investigations and had more oversight of the handling and resolution of these matters.

Human rights-related cases
Human rights related cases
Human rights-related cases (graphic)

Improvements made to our methods of categorizing cases resulted in the addition of nine new, substantiated cases of harassment to the data previously reported for 2020.

Investigations carried out in 2021 resulted in varying levels of corrective action, including retraining, demotion, reassignment and termination of employment. Remediation for parties subjected to harassment, discrimination or disrespectful behavior are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. We are working to ensure our company culture drives appropriate behaviors internally and externally. Read more about ABB's speak-up culture and reporting channels in "Integrity" in this report.

In the past year, we did not receive any reports of child labor, forced labor or threats to freedom of association. For further information about our findings of non-conformance within our supply chain, please refer to “Responsible Sourcing” in this report.

Case study Strengthening human rights governance

ABB employees at work Reveal case study