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An Influential Guide Connecting Anti-Corruption and Business and Human Rights

Building on a foundation set by the UN Human Rights Working Group and consistent with a detailed white paper published TRACE International, two major business associations—the Business Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC also known as “Business at the OECD”) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE)—recently issued a guide to assist businesses in connecting anti-corruption and human rights. Entitled “Connecting the Anti-Corruption and Human Rights Agendas: A Guide for Business and Employers’ Organisations,” it describes the general interconnectedness of anti-corruption and business and human rights, focuses on the practical implementation of a coordinated approach for companies, contains a lengthy appendix of resources, and includes a few short examples of company experiences. While the Guide does not contain much information that is new, it represents an important consensus of key organizations in the global business community. Indeed, BIAC/Business at the OECD, established roughly at the same time as the OECD, is an international business network with global members of more than seven million companies around the world. The IOE, created in 1920, advocates for employers and business community in the International Labor Organization and is the largest network of the private sector in the world, with more than 150 national employers’ organizations in 145 countries. Through these two leading business organizations, the Guide helps to solidify the expectation that companies will institute human rights programs and consider them in conjunction with their anti‑corruption activities.

For the past year, the UN Human Rights Working Group has sought to explore, explain, and connect corruption and human rights. That has included a session at the 2019 annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, multi-stakeholder consultations in 2020, and in June 2020, a ground breaking report to the UN Human Rights Council. The report, with a like title to the BIAC/IOE Guide, “Connecting the Business and Human Rights and the Anticorruption Agendas,” is an authoritative examination of the connection between human rights and corruption. While the report touches on how “companies have adopted good practices to reduce human rights and corruption risks by aligning their implementation,” it contains limited detail on how “anti-corruption compliance programmes and human rights due diligence processes” can be integrated. The report notes, however, that the TRACE white paper—which Paul Hastings prepared—focuses on such integration in a programmatic way.

Against that backdrop, the Guide contains something of a combination of the Working Group report and the TRACE white paper. It explains the links between corruption and human rights, the convergence of anti-corruption and human rights under common agendas, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which focuses on both human rights and corruption in the context of responsible business conduct. It also references differences between anti‑corruption and human rights, which the Working Group report and TRACE white paper also discuss.

The Guide then discusses nine ways where those synergies can be pursued:

  1. Initial risk assessments, given that human rights abuses and corruption often go hand in hand, which can look at the potential human rights—and the corruption risks and how they should be addressed. The Guide notes that undertaking such coordinated assessments avoids redundancies and have “mutually reinforcing effects given that the data collected in connection to corruption risk assessments can likely support the analysis of potential red flags in the field of human rights and vice-versa.” Beyond initial assessments, the Guide notes that companies may wish to explore how they can coordinate their broader compliance programs with human rights diligence. It also notes that anti-corruption and human rights programs should be overseen by senior officers with an adequate level of autonomy and include measures designed to prevent misconduct originating from within the organization and from third parties, such as risk-based due diligence, providing information on the company’s commitments and expectations and seeking reciprocal commitment from business partners.
  2. Embedding human rights and anti-corruption in the corporate culture, through a supportive tone from the top, corporate policies, ethics trainings, and contracts with business partners. The Guide notes that a “coordinated approach to human rights and anti-corruption which focuses on potential interlinkages may help to promote awareness and develop a deeper understanding of the risks as well as the value and importance of compliance programs among employees, management and leadership.”
  3. Building on experiences and existing structures, looking at related efforts on anti-corruption for guidance in setting up human rights risk management programs. The Guide notes that companies also might wish to identify how they can establish and reinforce a dialogue between the different functions and encourage human rights and anti-corruption experts to work together more closely. It offers as an example establishing a cross-functional working group (that includes legal affairs, compliance, human resources, business development and sustainability, government relations, corporate responsibility, supply chain, accounting, etc.) to discuss how to best identify and manage risks across different areas of the business.
  4. Using synergies in due diligence assessments, including in respect to suppliers and business partners.
  5. Establishing coordinated training programs, integrating human rights considerations into anti‑corruption training programs or combining information into a broader set of materials on responsible business conduct or ethics. That can include general training, with and supplemented with more targeted sessions depending on the employee’s job function, industry, and region.
  6. Considering joint reporting mechanisms where practical and appropriate, including hotlines, whistle-blower channels, or other reporting channels to allow employees and stakeholders to raise concerns. The Guide notes, “Where feasible and practical, it may further be useful to provide operational-level grievance mechanisms at different tiers of the supply chain such that issues can be dealt with in a more targeted manner and closer to where the adverse impact has occurred.”
  7. Supporting internal reporting mechanisms, allowing the company to collect financial and non‑financial information and data to assess the company’s performance in pre-defined areas, often through Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and tracking metrics. The Guide notes that data collection on anti-corruption compliance can be used to evaluate human rights risks and perhaps joint KPIs in reporting processes, offering as examples quantifiable metrics on employees’ awareness and knowledge about human rights and anti-corruption issues (e.g. employee interviews), the number of anti-corruption/human rights trainings undertaken, the training completion rate, or the number of anti-corruption and human rights assessments conducted in a certain reporting period.
  8. Reporting to external stakeholders, and demonstrating transparency in their programs to manage the risk of corruption and on their human rights issues. As the Guide notes, reporting “on these issues in a coordinated manner may turn out to be complementary and can moreover prove to be a useful means to induce a company to better identify and address its corruption and human rights risks.”
  9. Engaging in cooperation and collective action, which may include sharing information on suppliers with companies operating in the same sector or region, joining industry initiatives to leverage change, and collaborating with experts (local producers and suppliers, local governments, local law enforcement, business and employer organizations, NGOs, social partners, intergovernmental organizations, etc.) on the ground to help build their capacity.

The Guide concludes with a lengthy Annex of resources—roughly 10 pages long—and three short examples of company experiences.

While the Guide does not break much new ground-and we encourage you to read the TRACE whitepaper in particular for a more detailed discussion of the programmatic elements-it is decidedly helpful in continuing to progress the important interconnectedness of corruption and human rights. The importance is substantive, as corruption and human rights abuses often go hand in hand, with one fueling the other. It also is procedural, as companies seeking to develop human rights programs may look to create efficiencies with their existing compliance structures. The Guide, and more documents like it, help to provide a benchmark and a starting point for companies to pursue that integrated approach. Given the influence and broad reach of BIAC and IOE, and the fact that the content was developed by business by business, implementing human rights programs—and considering their connection to corruption—is increasingly becoming a minimum expectation.


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