Getting started on the human rights journey

September 30, 2013

Ed Potter, Coca-Cola’s Director for Global Workplace Rights, says that implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is really just a question of getting started.

On June 16, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, providing a framework for corporations to strengthen their approach to demonstrating respect for human rights. Business integration of the Guiding Principles provides a roadmap for consistency and accountability in addressing these issues throughout business functions and across the supply chain.

The “Say-Do” gap in implementing the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights may appear daunting and demands real attention, resources and business integration across all functions. But ultimately, it is a question of just getting started.

Guiding Principle 15 sets out the basics:

  • First, a company needs a policy commitment to respect human rights.  The policy commitment need not be elaborate or complicated, but it should encompass potential human rights impacts both in the workplace and in the communities in which your company and supply chain operate.
  • Second, a company should establish a human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent or mitigate potential human rights impact.  Due diligence and early issue identification are not new to companies, and human rights issues can simply be integrated into existing issue identification processes.  A suggested first step to understand what to look for is to conduct an analysis of the company’s potential human rights impact across its value chain.
  • Third, where there are adverse human rights impacts, processes must be in place to remediate the impact.
  • And finally, the expectation of the Guiding Principles is that a company will ‘know and show’ that it respects human rights.  This can be accomplished by incorporating relevant updates into company sustainability reports and websites.

At The Coca-Cola Company, we have modeled our approach in alignment with the Guiding Principles by defining what we stand for, promoting early issue identification and expeditious resolution of issues and engaging in robust stakeholder engagement – all key to continually advancing our understanding of and implementation of respect for human rights.  You can find The Coca-Cola Company’s respect for human rights approach on our website, and in our annual Sustainability Report.

We understand that the true measure of a well-managed business is not just whether it is financially successful, but how it achieves that success.  As more than 700,000 associates across our system do business around the world in diverse local cultures, we know that it’s not enough to be profitable, we must also be responsible. And we know we cannot work alone – collaboration across sectors is critical. While we believe governments are responsible for protecting human rights, businesses have a corporate responsibility to respect human rights.

During the past few years, we’ve made significant progress in our journey toward ensuring respect for human rights across our system. We are continually advancing our own due diligence and understanding by engaging with experts in the field and with our peer companies. In 2007, we joined the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights (BLIHR). In 2009, we became a founding member of the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights (GBIHR). And in 2012, we became a founding company of the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking (gBCAT).

In spite of our progress, we’ve learned this is a process that requires time, resources and a plan to address occasional setbacks. It’s essential to keep learning and investing in research and polices and to make real improvements. The implementation of the Guiding Principles is a journey, and one that will last as long as your business is in business.

Ed Potter is Director, Global Workplace Rights at The Coca-Cola Company. To learn more about Human Rights at The Coca-Cola Company visit: