Jan 23

2014

Branson at Davos: business must respect human rights – ‘where society thrives, so does business’

Richard Branson is well known for making money. As he has said, he has enough to last him a lifetime. Perhaps that gives him the luxury of preaching to the unconverted when in comes to human rights, some might say. Nevertheless, he remains a recognisable global entrepreneur, famous for making good ideas successful. So when he says that ‘there needs to be a completely new approach to how we operate as business leaders’ many will listen.

In 2012, Richard Branson formed The B Team, a not-for-profit initiative of global business and community leaders, including Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, Arianna Huffington, Mary Robinson and Professor Mohammed Yunus. Their lofty stated aim is ‘to create a future where the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.’ In this mission statement he appears to reverse the longstanding dominant notion that ‘economic’ benefit is the first concern of commerce.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos recently, Branson and his B Team have been further developing their manifesto. The ‘completely new approach’ they propose is for all businesses to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as a minimum across their commercial activities and in their supply chains. Branson and his team reference fair wages, decent working conditions, ethical purchasing decisions, strengthened governance, anti-corruption mechanisms and environmentally responsible conduct, as well as urging business leaders ‘to use their influence in upholding human rights.’

Whether the world’s corporate human rights abusers will take any immediate notice of Branson’s message is debatable at best. Nevertheless, the symbolic effect of such a statement upon the global debate of business and human rights should not be ignored. The publicity generated by high-profile business leaders as Branson keeps the discussion in the Media, the mainstream, and in the mind of CEOs who might otherwise think twice about commissioning a human rights impact assessment or a review of company policies for compliance with the UNGPs.

Picture credit: Merco Press