Imagine for a second that you’ve just been hired as the new head of sustainability for a large, transnational company. You arrive at your desk the first morning, and find a long list of policies and programmes that the company has put in place to ensure respect for human rights across its supply chain. You are given one simple instruction: decide which ones are working and which are not. Where do you start?

Let’s take a different scenario. This time, you are a financial adviser in a development institution, or perhaps a bank with an impact-investing portfolio. You have a list of 100 companies that – on paper – are committed to respecting human rights, but you want to tell which ones are truly making a difference in people’s lives. What indicators would you use?

One last case: you work for an international human rights organization that is planning a report on child labour in the garment industry. You’ve found 25 companies that have put in place processes to eradicate child labour. However, you don’t want to praise any companies in your report without making sure that the processes are actually effective. How can you spot the ones that don’t relate to actual practice?

Companies have made significant progress in measuring their impact on the planet but failed when it comes to harm to people

The truth is in all three circumstances you’d most likely be making a blind decision based, at best, on superficial data that measures activities rather than results.

Over the past few years, corporate respect for human rights has become an increasingly hot topic. More and more, companies of all sizes and across all regions are acknowledging that they have a responsibility to be active in seeking to prevent and address harm to people who may be affected by their business. Hundreds, if not thousands, of companies have launched programmes, put in place policies and invested millions of dollars to help ensure respect for people’s dignity. Yet most can’t tell whether their efforts are actually working.

Valuing corporate respect for human rights is particularly tricky. Unlike other business areas, such as sales, customer service or finance, respect for people’s dignity may seem intrinsically subjective. In the environmental field, companies have made significant progress in measuring their impact on the planet but they’ve consistently failed to do the same when it comes to harm to people.

At Shift, we believe that doesn’t have to be the case. And we are embarking on a journey to find better solutions to this shared problem.

This year we launched Valuing Respect, a global collaborative platform to research and co-create better ways of evaluating business respect for human rights. Over the next three years, we aim to develop tools and insights that can help both companies and their stakeholders focus their resources on actions that effectively improve outcomes for people.

To do so, we’ve joined forces with three regional partners (The Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, the ASEAN CSR Network and the Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business), in a truly global and cross-disciplinary effort.

Our goal is to identify promising paths towards more meaningful indicators, good practices, and methodologies to value respect

Our goal is to bring everyone to the table: investors, civil society, business leaders, regulators, academics, and others. Together, we are identifying promising paths towards more meaningful indicators, good practices, models and methodologies to value respect.

We’ve divided our research agenda into three areas:

• The discipline and art of evaluation: building a picture of how evaluation is conducted across different fields, such as international development and behavioural science.

• The state of practice: identifying existing patterns of what metrics and indicators are being used, as well as the challenges and gaps that those entail.

• Opportunities for learning and innovation: finding promising pilots, testing prototype tools and delivering new insights and products.

Read more at Ethical Corporation