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Transparency of information is essential to meaningful dialogue about potential human rights impacts, as well as to preventing human rights abuses and addressing problems at their inception. Moreover, in some instances companies may face liability for failing to disclose information relevant to human rights, for example where human rights impacts may expose the company to operational, reputational, or legal risk. (See also the SRSG’s project on corporate law and human rights.)
At the same time, there are also real and perceived risks associated with disclosure of some information related to human rights — for example, risks to revealing the identity of complainants, risks to staff and assets, or of potential increased legal liability. Thus, while the principle of transparency is an essential feature of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, there may be situations where companies must limit what they disclose and to whom.

This topic links most obviously to the tracking and reporting performance element of human rights due diligence, but some have suggested that to meet the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, other elements of human rights due diligence must be disclosed as well.

Questions for discussion:

What is it reasonable to expect a company to disclose with regard to its human rights due diligence? What would such transparency achieve?
What are the barriers to greater transparency, and how can those barriers be overcome?
How might transparency vary across the different elements of human rights due diligence or different stages of a business lifecycle, for example in pre-decision stages where proposals are tentative or confidential?
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posted by: John Sherman on Friday February 5, 2010Ratings Relevance: 2 0 Agreement: 0 0
Amy Lehr and I co-authored an article for the January 2010 issue of the ABA Section of International Law’s CSR Journal, entitled “Human Rights Due Diligence: Is it Too Risky?” It addresses the risks of disclosure, real and perceived. Here’s the link (scroll to page 6).

John Sherman
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posted by: The Danish Institute for Human Rights on Friday February 19, 2010Ratings Relevance: 0 1 Agreement: 0 0
We recently published a guide entitled ‘Doing Business in High-Risk Human Rights Environments’ that describes some of the basic processes of ensuring that business operations are able to positively impact human rights, including how companies express this publicly.

Business and human rights
Business activities generate jobs, revenue, innovation, goods and services needed to realise human rights. However, companies, whether local or multinational, p...

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posted by: marcusC on Tuesday March 30, 2010Ratings Relevance: 3 0 Agreement: 3 0
Transparency of a company’s human rights policy and performance on human rights indicators must be publicly available. Regardless of internal assessment and monitoring policies, public scrutiny is key to accountability. The Global Reporting Initiative’s framework provides a good example; more than one thousand companies now report using that framework. While the GRI framework is incomplete and does not fully incorporate the idea of due diligence, its quick acceptance demonstrates that regular, specific reports with quantitative data and explanations of management approach and policy on various social and environmental issues is achievable.

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posted by: John Sherman on Friday June 25, 2010Ratings Relevance: 1 0 Agreement: 1 0
In January 2010, the International Bar Association Working Group on the OECD Guidelines filed a response to the OECD’s Request for Consultation on this subject, and said:

“24. Regular disclosure of material information helps companies to be more reliable and transparent, and to be perceived by investors, consumers, communities, and governments as trustworthy. On the other hand, the disclosure of certain confidential information may prejudice the company and affect its competitiveness. Society’s need for information regarding companies and the need of companies to ensure their position in the market must therefore be balanced.

25. The presumption should be disclosure, particularly with respect to the company’s adherence to the Guidelines, absent prejudice to the company. Where companies do not comply with the Guidelines, they should explain why. This is analogous to the corporate governance requirements in effect in the UK, The Netherlands, and many other EU countries.”

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