Ergon Newsletter – 2024 outlook

What do organisations need to be thinking about and doing in 2024?

There are a whole range of factors that will influence the business and human rights field in 2024.  Multiple elections, existing and emerging conflict, the green transition, tightening spaces for civil society, migration, climate-related challenges, and evolving digital technology will likely impact the human rights of millions of people this year.

Many people have already written about these, instead the Ergon team would like to share some general themes which we think the organisations we work with might want to prioritise in 2024. In essence this is more of a “what can you do”, rather than “what should you worry about” start the year piece.

Get to grips with regulation

2024 will see a ramp up of mandatory due diligence legislation. At the end of 2023, a provisional agreement was reached on the scope of the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. The clarification of the scope and timetable for implementation of the CSDDD will be a key thing to look out for and work on in 2024. This Directive joins a long list of new due diligence legislation that many companies will have to comply with.

The landscape can feel complex and overwhelming. So, what should organisations do?

Set some priorities, don’t rush in

A key step in preparing for and responding to the new legislation is to start scoping the coverage of legislation, and then get a clear picture of the timeline for action and set some priorities. Most of the legislation requires a progressive process, which evolves over time, rather than requiring an absolute point of ‘compliance’. For example, organisations should look to develop a process to identify and mitigate risks of child labour through value chains, rather than requiring a state where it is ‘guaranteed’ that there is no child labour in a supply chain.

It is better to have clear and achievable targets that drive genuine progress, than to rush and compromise. Not everything needs to be done immediately and existing systems can be revised, or even re-imagined, in line with the requirements. Firstly, companies will need to get to grips with the scope of requirements that apply to their business, and how this varies in their operational contexts, reviewing the definitions and thresholds. Then they may map their business and supply chains against these requirements. Using a process of risk-based prioritisation during mapping and any gap analysis will help companies generate a reasonable, practical, and sequenced to-do list to ensure better and continuously improving human rights due diligence.

Reporting is a key part of all of the emerging, and already existing, legislation. However, something we often see is organisations being overly driven in their first or second reporting-cycle by a desire to report on things that are ‘finished’. There is nothing wrong with describing an emerging process or gradual coverage of supply chains or geographies. Good human rights due diligence is something that is incredibly complex and, if you are doing it right, it should be challenging. There are no quick fixes but there are effective first steps.

An example road map

Partnership is crucial, as is good stakeholder engagement

As part of their legislative response, organisations should also consider how to work closely with their existing supply chain partners or investees to support them in relation to the new requirements. Working with civil society, public, international and other stakeholders is also key. Good human rights due diligence can and should be a collaborative exercise that is done with such partners, not to them.

There could be unintended negative consequences for workers and communities, if companies and investors move away from suppliers or producers, such as smallholder farms as a process of ‘de-risking’. Equally, companies and multistakeholder initiatives in jurisdictions where there is no such legislation will need to respond to the legal requirements affecting buyers. There is both a strong business case and social case for capacity building, knowledge sharing and investing in communities supplying products or key raw materials This work needs to be done, engaging with key stakeholders along the way, to identify effective and manageable next steps for achieving effective supply chain due diligence and appropriate mitigation.

Check the current course? Think about impact and direction

There are lots of things organisations are already doing to support their human rights due diligence efforts. Processes such as risk assessment, auditing, grievance mechanisms and existing stakeholder engagement should not be dismissed as meaningless when issues or blind spots arise.

They can all be important pieces of the human rights management ‘jigsaw puzzle’ but should be deployed with the intention of continuous improvement. It is a question of looking at how best to use each tool in the toolbox and build an overall process which actually provides information which is relevant and appropriate and drives action.

Approaches that are robust, transparent and capable of receiving and responding to negative human rights impacts will be key. Reviewing existing approaches is a crucial step in the next year or so. This opens up opportunities to respond to new trends, refine ongoing due diligence and innovate to address previously overlooked issues, rights or stakeholder groups.

Companies and investors will need to seize these opportunities for improvement by allocating resources to monitoring, updating existing processes, and building a culture that is transparent and responsive. Any evaluation of existing processes should also seek to involve sensitive and proactive engagement with affected people, NGOs tackling wider systemic challenges and human rights defenders, particularly in contexts where open dialogue may be difficult.


Look inside as well as outside – think about how to create and embed systems change

While there rightly needs to be a greater and stronger focus on external stakeholder engagement when developing human rights due diligence approaches, too little is said about the importance of internal stakeholder engagement in terms of developing support for a human rights approach and also aligning to existing systems and objectives.

It is not a simple or easy thing to do to get organisations to adopt a human rights approach, let alone commit to actions that drive impact and change. It does not matter that, from an external perspective, it is the ‘right’ thing to do. The concept of “being aligned with the UNGPs” can mean little or nothing to senior management or financial leads. This applies as much to a major company as it does to a development finance institution.

So, what are some of the key steps those charged with developing and driving a human-rights approach may take in relation to the internal organisational aspect. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make yourself useful. Taking a human rights approach can help identify and put a name on some really difficult issues, and also find some innovative solutions to problems that were either ignored, avoided or overlooked. Focusing on finding solutions and actions, rather than just calling out problems, is essential. This is why we always try to work with clients to not just call out risks and problems but also to get to some potential, actionable solutions.
  • Use appropriate language and concepts – align with existing approaches. Different organisations and different cultural contexts use different language, are more familiar with some themes and will have stronger responses to some terminology more than others. While technical human rights language may work in some places, in others it can get in the way of promoting change and positive impact if it leads to hostility or defensiveness. Similarly, calling for new departments or ring-fenced budgets can be a big ask, and also runs the risk of creating a siloed human rights team, whereas ensuring a wider responsibility and mainstreaming can sometimes be the better approach.
  • Be opportunistic. Never waste a crisis. Organisations that have faced specific human rights challenges are often both the most defensive and open to change at the same time! Taking opportunities to push agendas forward as they arise and become hot topics is often the key to promoting change. The incoming MHRDD provides exactly this kind of opportunity, if taken well.
  • Don’t be afraid of a challenge. Dealing with live and real human rights issues can be difficult. For example, working on remedy and grievance on real cases – rather than abstract processes – is unpredictable, messy and can be emotionally draining. However, if you focus on remedy and outcomes and carry out deep listening, it can be immensely rewarding and instructive.
  • Know when to ask for help or escalate internally. There need to be clear internal routes for personnel to escalate human rights issues or concerns they feel they cannot or should not handle. These routes need to be accompanied by communications and training that give teams the confidence to reach out to management or experts when something is or seems wrong. Avoid siloing sensitive issues!
How can we help?

Working strategically with clients, ranging from companies and sporting bodies to financial institutions and multistakeholder initiatives, to embed their human rights approach is central to what Ergon does. This includes developing human rights policies; developing and implementing human rights risk and impact assessments; supporting stakeholder engagement; devising and managing grievance and remediation processes; capturing good practice; mapping approaches against incoming legislation; and training and capacity building.

Do get in touch with us if you want to discuss our approach and understand how we support and work with our clients.