20/11/2011 0 Comments
In August, a few UK magazines ran the 'Oh Lola! advert which featured Dakota Fanning holding a bottle of Marc Jacob's 'Oh Lola' perfume in what 'some' believed to be a sexually provocative pose. 'Some' in this context happened to be four people who complained to the Advertising Standards Agency. Despite four not being a significant number, the Agency acted swiftly and issued a ban to all UK advertisers not to run the advert.
Unsurprisingly, Coty UK, the makers of the perfume challenged the decision, claiming that the image was "similar to many other edgy images in those magazines." Of course, how 'edgy' is defined is open to interpretation, and I'm sure there are equal numbers of people who do not think it is 'inappropriate' compared to those that do, if the blog responses on the various newspapers that have covered this story is anything to go by.
However, strip away the issue and let's focus on what happened.
The photographer, advertiser and relevant entourage were willing to shoot and create such an image.
The perfume manufacturer was willing to agree on such an image.
The publishing houses were willing to print such an image. Responding to the ASA, the Sunday Times said: "Their publication was marketed to adults with an interest in cutting edge fashion and that any sexual connotations that may have been associated with the ad would be reduced because of that target audience."
All of the companies involved have corporate responsibility departments, Codes of Conduct, annual CSR statements and personnel, who no doubt, are committed to improving their company's CSR performance.
However, what we have here is a case of business and its responsibility to respect human rights, and specifically the rights of the child, in action.
Had any of the companies involved decided to consider and assess any potential harmful impacts arising from the selected photo image, it's probable that they would have opted to select the other photo of Dakota Fanning sporting the perfume bottle by her cheek. And, in light of the ASA's assessment findings, it's unlikely they would have banned that particular image.
Following the six year mandate of the former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, many companies now openly acknowledge that they have a responsibility to respect human rights, and recognize the importance of assessing the human rights impacts of their existing and planned activities.
Thankfully, the Children's Rights and Business Principles, a joint UNICEF, UN Global Compact and Save the Children initiative will arrive next year on the back of the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and the Guiding Principles for its implementation.
Going forward, companies will have a clear marker on what society expects them to do in relation to children's rights, and how they can ensure their activities do not adversely harm the rights of the child, intentionally or unintentionally.
*Universal Children's Day is celebrated on 20th November, every year. The date marks the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) by the UN General Assembly.
By Désirée Abrahams
Lucy Amis has usefully drawn attention to the failure of parts of the media industry to live up to its role in advancing the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and indeed the recent instances of abuse of the right to privacy.
For governments, this poses difficult dilemmas. Is more regulation part of the answer? The UN Guiding Principles make it clear that States have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication.
The problem is that any government move to introduce more regulation to protect the individual from human rights abuses by the media risks exposing that government to accusations that it is seeking to muzzle the press and restrict freedom of expression.
Last year, a government in Latin America sought, no doubt with the best of intentions, to introduce a new law against racism and discrimination, including provision for fines, suspension of licences and removal of immunity for offending media and journalists. This caused an outcry from the press, a hunger strike, protest marches and criticism from the Inter-American Press Association.
The risk of government action being counter-productive is of course even greater when the government concerned has a poor human rights record.
In most industry sectors, companies are very reluctant to criticize the human rights record of their competitors. Recent events in the UK have shown that this is not the case in the media industry, where competitors played a key role in exposing the activities of parts of News International, contributing to the closure of the newspaper regarded as the leading offender. Clearly, governments must perform their key role of law enforcement. But this is one industry in which even the most ardent advocates of regulation might conclude that market forces are more likely to produce results than more regulation.
By Graham Minter
The media provide an essential vehicle for freedom of expression globally. Media companies can also be justifiably proud of the 'fourth estate' function journalists have fulfilled for generations in publicising human rights abuses by governments and others. More recently, the media's scope has extended to shining a spotlight on instances of human rights wrongdoing by multinational companies - ranging from allegations of mining or oil firms fuelling conflict, retail brands exploiting child labour, pharmaceutical firms conducting unethical clinical trials, through to alleged charges that internet companies have divulged the names of political dissidents to government regimes.
This year, the media's role in advancing and promoting human rights has never seemed more relevant, as we witnessed the Arab Spring uprisings unfold, and realised the invaluable contribution of satellite and on-line broadcasting in furthering the democracy movements.
Yet until the News International phone-hacking scandal resurfaced this year, it could be said that we had lost sight of the fact that media organisations are major multinational businesses, just as capable of committing human rights abuses when poorly governed, as any other business. What was the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone if not a violation of the right to privacy?
Following the News of the World's closure on 4 July 2011, there has been some coverage of the potential for charges to be brought against News Corporation under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in relation to alleged acts of bribery of public officials by News International staff in the UK. Much less however has been written about the relevance to News Corporation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, or the newly updated and closely aligned, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
The Guiding Principles stipulate among other things that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and should act with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others and address any adverse impacts with which they are involved. In a week that has seen a third of News Corporation's shareholders vote against Rupert Murdoch's son, James Murdoch's re-election to the board, calls for robust independent oversight of the business, and the company agreeing to a 2 million settlement to Milly Dowler's family, the Guiding Principles could not be more relevant.
Both the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines specifically call on companies to make a policy commitment to respect human rights; to carry out human rights due diligence in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their human rights impacts; and to provide for or co-operate through legitimate processes, in the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute.
Responding to these new emerging expectations, many global household names in the extractives, apparel, telecommunications and even the banking and financial services sectors can now point to an explicit human rights policy statement. But what of the media industry?
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those newspapers that campaign for the abolition of human rights laws and standards, and encourage a negative perception of human rights among their readers, should have fallen behind the curve in this emerging area of responsible corporate practice. But how many of the others, less ideologically opposed to human rights, can honestly claim to have made a corporate policy commitment? How many of them carry out human rights due diligence, or intend to do so? And how many media giants communicate publicly about how they address their human rights impacts?
In the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that triggered international reverberations in the industry, is it not time for media companies to start demonstrating their corporate responsibility to respect human rights by carrying out human rights due diligence? We think it is.
By Lucy Amis
Last week, I attended the 31st International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) Conference, held in the stunning, colonial Méxican city of Puebla. I was honoured to be invited to this amazing conference; not only to listen and learn from those working at all levels in the impact assessment (IA) field but also because the session I spoke at was the first of its kind.
After 30 years of IAIA conferences, the 31st opened its doors to a small but rapidly growing field of human rights impact assessments (HRIA). Thanks to the work of the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, HRIAs or assessments on a company’s human rights impact as a concept, are now largely accepted.
Although, acceptance hasn’t yet translated into extensive adoption. Human rights impact assessments are like a promising school band that has the potential to turn into a big overnight hit.
If a school band, the session on HRIAs at the Conference was its first concert outside of the school gates, and by all accounts, the audience loved the performance. But I hear you question, is this because the audience was filled with the equivalent of the mums, dads and other family members of the school band musicians? Wasn’t the IAIA Conference filled with impact assessment practitioners and other folk linked to the community?
Indeed it was, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the IA community or others will readily embrace HRIAs without careful scrutiny. In fact, many in the CSR/Sustainability community question the added-value of a specific ‘human rights’ impact assessment approach for companies, noting that a ‘good’ social impact assessment (SIA) should be able to pick up most human rights risks and impacts. At the session, I was directly asked for a list of the human rights issues that are not addressed in a SIA. Wouldn’t life be simple if there was such a list! Alas, there is not, and there shouldn’t be, as no one impact assessment, whatever it is called, could ever be the same.
The essence of a human rights impact assessment rests not only on what you do, but how you do it. There are 30+ human rights, so conducting a comprehensive HRIA will require an assessment of all as per the International Bill of Human Rights. Yes, it will be a significant undertaking.
So those that believe that the exercise can be fast-tracked and some human rights can be overlooked in the interests of expediency or that certain human rights do not relate to their business so can be instantly ignored, are missing the point of the exercise. Often, human rights issues are hidden – often they are nascent, so approaching an assessment of this kind will require an open mind.
The human rights issues associated with workers, communities and other stakeholders can be diverse, dynamic, and demanding; some of them may even conflict with each other. Indeed, it is this combination of factors that will make a HRIA more challenging than any other assessment to complete, but all the more useful to the company in the long run.
In December last year, IBLF advertised for a Programme Coordinator to work on business and human rights. Needing to get someone in quickly, we set a one-week deadline and an essay of 250 words, themed ‘In your opinion, what does the future hold for business and human rights over the next five years?’
We were inundated with very high calibre candidates – all with multiples degrees and varied work experience. Their essays were impressive too. While some focused on the ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework’ advanced by John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, his recent Guiding Principles, and ruminated on 2011 and what is set to be an important year for business standards, others chose to focus on what specifically companies should do in next five years.
Many stressed the need for business to undertake human rights due diligence; to develop human rights policies that signal their commitment, to assess potential human rights risks, and to critically address any adverse human rights impacts.
The contrasting responses intrigued me, and in a way, are similar to the varying approaches adopted by different actors in the business and human rights field over recent years. While a huge generalisation, key actors can be seen to cluster into three different levels:
While there have been significant advances over the years in the business and human rights field, real change will only come about through a change in attitude and behaviour by all stakeholders, and a commitment to put differences aside and work in partnership. Understanding the respective positions and challenges of each relevant actor, by all actors, will be necessary if the end goal – the eradication of corporate-related adverse human rights impacts on stakeholders – is to be achieved.