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Corporate ethics in the era of human rights challenges: ICL Services' 4 principles
In 2018, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turned 70. But, as noted by Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, no one in the world can count on unconditional respect for their rights. Even if we leave aside the most monstrous events of recent years—armed conflicts, ethnic cleansing, repression, and restriction of freedoms—human rights have faced dozens of diverse challenges, even in relatively prosperous societies. We are in a time of growing phobias and reactionary changes after the liberal transformations of previous decades, the struggle for equality and tolerance, and open and bold statements about mass crimes against the person (#MeToo), etc. It seems that these calls concern only two parties: the person and the state as a guarantor of his rights and freedoms. Business is obliged to simply follow the laws. But is corporate ethics right to leave it at that?
The American supermarket chain Walmart employs over 2,200,000 people. If Walmart were a country, it would have surpassed 98 other world countries. The largest private employer in Russia, PJSC Magnit, has 270,000 employees. This is more than the entire population of Veliky Novgorod. Large businesses involve a huge number of employees, as well as their loved ones. In such a situation, corporate ethics can (and should) become a driving force for improving the area of human rights.
Understanding their responsibility, the largest companies are active in the social sphere. Nestle was the first global corporation to publish a white paper, its human rights reports. L’Occitane provides regular, well-paid employment to 11,000 women in impoverished regions of Burkina Faso in Africa. The head of Unilever Paul Polman named respect for and observance of human rights among the principles of his company’s prosperity. There are other worthy examples. And even if businesses can’t solve the most critical issues, in this time of challenges any contribution to the cause of human rights—even a relatively small one—holds a special value.
Companies don’t have to be transnational giants to make a contribution. Moreover, it doesn’t require excessive resources. As ICL Services’ experience shows, it is sufficient to simply build your daily work in accordance with 4 simple principles in order to achieve certain improvements in the areas of the rights to health, social security, education, development, etc.
ICL Services is an IT service company with 1,800 employees. It is among the top 100 global outsourcers and works with clients from 30 countries. 90% of its employees are located in Russia. During the company’s first stage of development and growth in the field of human rights, the only highlighted priority was complying with the laws of the Russian Federation. Later, as ICL Services developed, it became possible to clarify strategic planning in this area. As a guideline, ISO 26000 was adopted. This is the international standard regulating corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues, including human rights issues.
Principle No. 1. The tone is set at the top
We can talk about observing human rights in a company if this principle is followed by the entire or absolute majority of employees. But, to demand this from its staff, the company must first:
- articulate its goals and vision of the results;
- explain clearly and unambiguously to its employees and at the same time provide a channel for operational advice;
- model desired behavior at every level of managers and opinion leaders;
- set clear priorities in situations where respect for human rights conflicts with speedy action or short-term economic results.
To accomplish these tasks, human rights issues were enshrined in the company’s CSR Policy, and ICL Services’ internal portal contains contact information for the compliance manager, HR director, and company director, which can be contacted in difficult cases. Here’s an example of what the Policy says:
«The Company respects human rights, understanding that they are applicable in all the countries where the Company operates, in all cultures, and in any circumstances. It takes all measures to observe them and assumes that profiting from situations where legislation or its application does not guarantee the necessary protection of human rights is unacceptable.»
Principle No. 2. More responsibility in working with counterparties
The sphere of influence of a successful business far exceeds the circle of employees and their loved ones. It also includes partners and contractors and, in part, even the company’s clients. Ideally, a business’ area of responsibility in respecting human rights should correspond to its area of influence.
Imagine a situation that, alas, is quite possible. Company No. 1 produces a high-quality, low-cost product and respects the rights of its employees and customers when doing so. Company No. 2 supplies cheap raw materials for the first company, secretly using child labor. Having earned a good reputation, the first company is buying more raw materials as it grows. As a result, the second company employs more children and increases their shifts. The first company strictly observes the laws but encourages partners to violate them. To avoid such situations, the first company should expand its area of responsibility by showing interest in the nuances of how its counterparties work and making sure that they respect basic human rights.
To accomplish this, ICL Services uses aCode for Suppliers and Business Partners. Before starting work with the company, contractors are obliged to sign it and observe it when working.
Principle No. 3. Follow both the spirit and the letter of the law
In accordance with the letter of the law, the company is required to comply with the Russian and international human rights instruments. The spirit of the law can be interpreted in a broader sense, i.e. providing as complete guarantees in this area as the company’s capabilities allow. ICL Services seeks to support employees in implementing the following rights:
Right to healthy living and medical care
Employees have Private Health Insurance (PHI), which includes dental coverage, free annual vaccinations, and fluorography. Office buildings are equipped with medical facilities. The company partially reimburses the purchase of fitness club memberships, provides employees with sports fields for team sports, and supports participation in athletic events (marathons, sports days, the Race of Heroes, etc.). There are also support measures for employees’ families. For example, partial reimbursement for spa resorts with medical services for children and bonus payments for weddings, childbirth, etc.
Right to education
ICL Services pays for employees to take external training and certification and offers internal technical, skills, and language courses. 90–95% of the company’s employees use their educational opportunities every year.
On the one hand, the absence of gender discrimination is a requirement of the law (which, of course, is observed). On the other, there are also opportunities for improvement. In the field of IT, the gender balance is shifted, starting with pre-university and university education. Mathematics and IT specialties are traditionally considered male domains. ICL Services implements career guidance and educational programs in schools and universities, which are designed to show girls opportunities in this area and support them in choosing this professional path. In addition, there are meetings of female students and interns with ICL Services’ female employees who work as managers and senior specialists in the technical field. The personal experience discussed at these meetings motivates and supports girls to continue in IT.
Right to development and fair evaluation
The opportunities for growth and development in ICL Services are associated with a socio-economic human right—the right to social security—as well as the psychological needs for recognition and self-actualization. The corporate performance evaluation system was created in conjunction with the company’s employees. 100% of employees participated in piloting the system and gave feedback that helped shape its final form. Automatic assessment by openly published rules guarantees transparency and objectivity. Finally, selecting employees for senior positions is primarily carried out within the company in order to provide fair opportunities for growth.
Principle No. 4. Process, not project
Respect for human rights is not a one-time project but an ongoing process. It requires involvement of the company as a whole and each individual employee—from an intern to the CEO—in particular. At the same time, the company’s task is to provide employees with a base: an officially stated position, as well as the means to follow it.
ICL Services’ experience shows that building this kind of platform is quite realistic and doesn’t require extra costs on the part of the company. That’s why there’s the desire to hope that more and more companies will take on the constant and daily responsibility for observing human rights.
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