Skip to main content

It goes without saying that a company’s success should be measured by the significance of the purpose it serves and how it regards everyone in between.

Considering the delicate situation of our planet, it is only logical that the ongoing degradation of natural ecosystems and what takes place at board meetings of influential companies have topped numerous media headlines. However, all this attention should not make us overlook the fundamental importance of the physical and mental wellbeing, security, aspirations and life opportunities of those who call planet Earth their home. Thus, any climate change strategy and every executive-level big decision will have to be mindful of human (and animal) rights and their broader impact on society.

For the sake of clarity, environmental aspects relate to the impact of products and services on the natural world; governance has to do with how business is conducted and decisions are made, and social topics deal with how companies contribute to the communities where they operate regardless of their location.

Rather than being competing realities, the virtuous combination of these three will make sustainable prosperity a reality for all everywhere.

In the case of still being unfairly underestimated, this blog post will explain why the social dimension deserves a prominent spot in the central stage of sustainability. Luckily, we count on a myriad of authoritative sources and examples to prove our point.

In our humble but thoroughly informed opinion, the GRI 400 Social Disclosures, ISO26000 on Social Responsibility, SA8000 Standard, and the B Corp Impact Assessment are great places to start along with all the United Nations’ extensive work on this subject. They all are internationally used and have been developed and agreed on by experts.

In a nutshell, the GRI 400 Social Disclosures will be part of the information gathered for sustainability reporting purposes; the voluntary nature of the ISO26000 guides companies to integrate social responsibility. While SA8000 is one of the leading social certification programmes, consisting of an initial self-assessment, a certification process, and the option of recertification every three years.

Giving it a go to the B Corp Impact Assessment will help determine how a company ranks in the sustainability stardom. It is as easy as getting online, opening an account for free, and looking at its questionnaire (it is lengthy and well worthy). All data entered remains confidential, and only you can see it. Regardless of pursuing the B Corp membership, the Impact Assessment will serve as an accurate road map to become a sustainable business. The fact that different answers scores differently will give an eye-opening hint of what should be done next. On top of that, B Corp’s SDG Action Manager will help align whatever is done businesswise to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Another convergence point of these schemes is the juicy benefits at stake: the ability to attract and retain top talent as well as to boost their morale and motivation to perform at their best; work with leading suppliers; get the attention and corresponding funding from donors, sponsors, and investors to introduce disruptive technology to become an industry leader; forge fruitful relations with peers, the media, policymakers, and civil society organisations; and last but not least, get the respect and trust of consumers.

The following are brief examples of how sustainability’s social dimension is integrated in businesses of all types, sizes, sectors, and locations.

GRI 400 – SOCIAL DISCLOSURES GRI 401 – Employment GRI 402 – Labour Management Relations GRI 403 – Occupational Health and Safety


GRI 404 – Training and Education
GRI 405 – Diversity and Equal Opportunity GRI 406 – Non-discrimination GRI 407 – Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining GRI 408 – Child Labour GRI 409 – Forced or Compulsory Labour
GRI 410 – Security Practices GRI 411 – Rights of Indigenous Peoples GRI 412 – Human Rights Assessment GRI 413 – Local Community GRI 414 – Supplier Social Assessment
GRI 415 – Public Policy GRI 416 – Customer Health and Safety GRI 417 – Marketing and Labelling GRI 418 – Customer Privacy GRI 419 – Socioeconomic Compliance

GRI 401 – Employment

  • Disclosure 401-1 New employee hires and employee turnover
  • Disclosure 401-2 Benefits provided to full-time employees that are not provided to temporary or part-time employees
  • Disclosure 401-3 Parental leave

These three disclosures are broken down by age, gender and region. However, at this point, go the extra mile and add the protected characteristics under the UK Equality Act of 2010 or check out what the law says in your respective country.

Disclosing this information will show a company’s efforts to attract diverse talent via inclusive recruitment policies and the quality of benefits offered. Similarly, abnormally high absenteeism or turnover will be a signal of something not going that well internally. Pay close attention if one specific group is particularly affected; it will indicate what might be happening.

A happy workforce will be more productive, which will translate into solid profits in the long run. At the same time, employee dissatisfaction will involve worse performance, more sick leaves and extra expenses in, i.e., recruitment or conflict resolution.

Subtleties like the one brought by Disclosure 401-3 Parental leave, d) Total number of employees that returned to work after parental leave ended that were still employed 12 months after their return to work, by gender, are very revealing and worth paying attention to. It might show greater difficulties for women to return to their professional career after becoming a mom, while it could not be the case for newly dads.

GRI 405 – Diversity and Equal Opportunity

  • Disclosure 405-1 Diversity of governance bodies and employees
  • Disclosure 405-2 Ratio of basic salary and remuneration of women to men

It is finally apparent the irrefutable benefits of having a diverse pool of employees, suppliers, investors and customers and the gains when they all are treated fairly, and specific needs and abilities are addressed. If we take a broader approach, we will see that egalitarianism, diversity, and inclusivity yield higher social justice and democratic stability levels. As a result, sustainable human, cultural, scientific, and economic development will be realised.

A company can be easily diverse but not necessarily inclusive if vulnerable groups perform most of the non-qualified and lowest-paid jobs, and the traditionally privileged few occupy all seats at the board rooms. Collecting and analysing demographic data of employees offer an accurate picture of how a company provide equal opportunities – promotions, career development, flexible working hours, etc. – and a fair distribution of resources – a minimum living wage, salary increase, access to formal training, bonuses, dividends, etc. -. Do gather this information beyond gender or age groups. Be mindful about representing all groups and interests that make up those who work for you.

ISO26000, Social Responsibility

ISO26000 is a voluntary international standard whose principal value is to provide guidance and recommendations to companies to enhance their social responsibility. It is flexible and suits organisations of all sectors, sizes, cultural contexts and geographies.

It assists companies to understand the principles of social responsibility (transparency, accountability, ethical behaviour, respect for stakeholder interests, the rule of law, international norms of behaviour and human rights) as well as to identify its core subjects (organisational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community involvement and development). Once this is done, a company should integrate these principles and subjects into their strategies and operations.


HUMAN RIGHTS Due Diligence Human Rights Risk Situations


Avoidance of Complicity Resolving Grievances Discrimination and Vulnerable Groups


Civil and Political Rights, Economic Social and Cultural Rights Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work



This part is meant to help companies seek evidence of vulnerable groups being affected by their operations, avoid complicity and benefiting from rights violations, and ensure redress if necessary.

CONSUMER ISSUES Fair Marketing, Factual and Unbiased Information and Fair Contractual Practices Protecting Consumers’ Health and Safety Sustainable Consumption
Consumer Service, Support, Complaints and Dispute Resolution Consumer Data Protection and Privacy Access to Essential Services Education and Awareness

Its primary purpose is to encourage companies to design products that are safe for consumers and the environment; minimise the generation of waste due to excessive packaging; offer repairing, recycling and disposal services; and consider users with special needs.

ISO26000 aligns well with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s, ILO, core conventions on labour practices, and, of course, with the Sustainable Development Goals.

SA8000 Standard, Social Accountability

This scheme provides voluntary certification for a vast number of industries that is auditable by a third party. It is revised periodically, and its requirements are based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO Conventions, international human rights norms and domestic labour laws.  Its aim is “to empower and protect all personnel within an organisation’s control and influence who provide products or services for that organisation, including personnel employed by the organisation itself and by its suppliers, sub-contractors, sub-suppliers and home workers”.

SA8000 is comprised of eight differentiated elements:



Child Labour Remuneration
Health and Safety Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining Discrimination
Disciplinary practices Forced or Compulsory Labour
Management System Working Hours


Social Accountability International published a guidance document where relevant SA8000 definitions, requirements, background and intent can be found, as well as implementation and auditor guidance.

Within the United Nations context, we find:

  • The UN Global Compact, whose Ten Principles cover human rights, labour relations, anti-corruption efforts and, of course, the promotion of environmental responsibility.
  • The seminal 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights developed to help companies avoid incurring direct or indirect human rights violations derived from their business activities no matter how close or far from their headquarters.
  • ILO Conventions 29 & 105 on the prohibition of forced labour; 87 & 98 on the right to form and join trade unions and the right to collective bargaining; 100 on equal pay for equal work; 138 & 182 on the prohibition of child labour and trafficking of children; and 169 on the right to self-determination and the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • And the Sustainable Development Goals and a good number of Human Rights treaties.

As a way of example, SDG #5 focuses on gender equality and women and girls empowerment. Several articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, deal with gender-based discrimination and violence, the right to decide the number and spacing of children, and the right to just and favourable conditions of work.

What is promoted in SDG #8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, is directly linked with the right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work; the prohibition of slavery, forced labour, and trafficking of persons; the equal rights of women in relation to employment; the prohibition of child labour; and equal labour rights of migrant workers comprised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CEDAW and several ILO Conventions.

 By the way, today is not March 8th, but it is a perfect occasion to advocate for girls and women rights. Every day is Women’s Day and Human Rights Day, for that matter. It is crucially important to raise awareness about the persistent difficulties hundreds of millions of women and girls find in their everyday dealings. Taking the streets once a year falls outrageously short. It does not address nor solve the underlying and prevailing injustice. The same goes for all those human realities that encounter obvious or subtle hurdles to lead a life of dignity, creativity, love, purpose and opportunity. So, let’s get to it.

One Comment

Leave a Reply