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  • Writer's pictureFrans Dekker

Our Social Responsibility as architectural professionals

This article provides a synopsis of SANS/ISO 26000 – Guidance on Social Responsibility.

Organizations around the world, and their stakeholders, are becoming increasingly aware of the need for and benefits of socially responsible behaviour. The objective of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development.

An organization's performance in relation to the society in which it operates and to its impact on the environment has become a critical part of measuring its overall performance and its ability to continue operating effectively. This is, in part, a reflection of the growing recognition of the need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organizational governance. In the long run, all our activities as built environment professionals depend on the health of the world's ecosystems. We are subjected to greater scrutiny by their various stakeholders.


The perception and reality of our performance on social responsibility can influence, among other things:

  • our competitive advantage;

  • our reputation;

  • our ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users;

  • the maintenance of employees' morale, commitment and productivity;

  • the view of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community; and

  • our relationship with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which we operate.


Social responsibility is defined in SANS 2600, an adoption of ISO 2600, as the responsibility we take  for the impacts of our decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour

  • that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare, of society;

  • that takes into account the expectations of stakeholders;

  • that follows applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour and

  • that is integrated throughout the organization  and practised in its relationships

The term social responsibility came into widespread use in the early 1970s, although various aspects of social responsibility were the subject of action by organizations and governments as far back as the late 19th century, and in some instances even earlier.

Attention to social responsibility has in the past focused primarily on business. The term “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) is more familiar to most people than “social responsibility”.

The view that social responsibility is applicable to all emerged we started to recognize that we too have responsibilities for contributing to sustainable development.

The elements of social responsibility reflect the expectations of society at a particular time and are therefore liable to change. As society's concerns change, its expectations of us also change to reflect those concerns.

An early notion of social responsibility centred on philanthropic activities such as giving to charity. Subjects such as labour practices and fair operating practices emerged a century or more ago. Other subjects, such as human rights, the environment, consumer protection and countering fraud and corruption, were added over time, as they received greater attention.

The core subjects and issues identified in SANS / ISO 26000 reflect a current view of good practice. Views of good practice will also undoubtedly change in the future, and additional issues may come to be seen as important elements of social responsibility.

For several reasons, awareness about the social responsibility of organizations is increasing. Globalization, greater ease of mobility and accessibility, and the growing availability of instant communications mean that individuals and organizations around the world are finding it easier to know about the decisions and activities of organizations in both nearby and distant locations.

These factors provide the opportunity for organizations to benefit from learning new ways of doing things and solving problems. This means that organizations' decisions and activities are subject to increased scrutiny by a wide variety of groups and individuals. Policies or practices applied by organizations in different locations can be readily compared.

The global nature of some environmental and health issues, recognition of worldwide responsibility for combating poverty, growing financial and economic interdependence and more geographically dispersed value chains mean that matters relevant to an organization may extend well beyond those existing in the immediate area in which the organization is located. It is important that we address social responsibility irrespective of social or economic circumstances.

Instruments such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, the Millennium Development Goals and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work emphasize this worldwide interdependence.

Over the past several decades, globalization has resulted in an increase in the impact of different types of organizations – including those in the private sector, NGOs and government – on communities and the environment.

NGOs and companies have become providers of many services usually offered by government, particularly in countries where governments have faced serious challenges and constraints and have been unable to provide services in areas such as health, education and welfare.

As the capability of country governments expands, the roles of government and private sector organizations are undergoing change.

In times of economic and financial crisis, organizations should seek to sustain their activities related to social responsibility. Such crises have a significant impact on more vulnerable groups, and thus suggest a greater need for increased social responsibility. They also present opportunities for integrating social, economic and environmental considerations more effectively into policy reform and organizational decisions and activities.

Government has a crucial role to play in realizing these opportunities.

Consumers, customers, donors, investors and owners are, in various ways, exerting financial influence on organizations, and here we can include the architectural practices, in relation to social responsibility. The expectations of society regarding the performance of organizations continue to grow.

Community right-to-know legislation in many locations gives people access to detailed information about the decisions and activities of some organizations. A growing number of organizations are communicating with their stakeholders, including by producing social responsibility reports, to meet their needs for information about the organization's performance.

These and other factors form the context for social responsibility and contribute to the call to demonstrate our social responsibility.

The essential characteristic of social responsibility is the willingness to incorporate social and environmental considerations in our decision making and be accountable for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment.

This implies both transparent and ethical behaviour – refer here to the SACAP Code of Conduct - that contributes to sustainable development, follows applicable law and is consistent with international norms of behaviour.

It also implies that social responsibility is integrated throughout the organization, is practised in its relationships and considers the interests of stakeholders.

A stakeholder has one or more interests that can be affected by the decisions and activities of an organization.

This interest gives the party a “stake” in the organization that creates a relationship with the organization. This relationship need not be formal or even acknowledged by the stakeholder or the organization. Stakeholders can be referred to as “interested parties”.

In determining which stakeholder interests to recognize, we should consider the lawfulness of those interests and their consistency with international norms of behaviour.

Social responsibility involves an understanding of the broader expectations of society.

A fundamental principle of social responsibility is respect for the rule of law and compliance with legally binding obligations. Social responsibility, however, also entails actions beyond legal compliance and the recognition of obligations to others that are not legally binding.

These obligations arise out of widely shared ethical and other values. Although expectations of socially responsible behaviour will vary between countries and cultures, we should nevertheless respect international norms of behaviour such as those reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development and other instruments.

Identification of and engagement with stakeholders are fundamental to social responsibility. We should determine who has an interest in our decisions and activities, so that we can understand its impacts and how to address them. Although stakeholders can help to identify the relevance of matters to our decisions and activities, stakeholders do not replace broader society in determining norms and expectations of behaviour.

A matter may be relevant to our social responsibility even if not specifically identified by the stakeholders we consult.

Because social responsibility concerns the potential and actual impacts of our decisions and activities, the ongoing, our regular daily activities constitute the most important behaviour to be addressed.

Social responsibility should be an integral part of our core organizational strategy, with assigned responsibilities and accountability at all appropriate levels within or practices.

It should be reflected in decision making and considered in implementing activities.

Philanthropy - and in this context understood as giving to charitable causes - can have a positive impact on society. However, it should not be used by us as a substitute for integrating social responsibility into our practices.

The impacts of our decisions or activities can be greatly affected by its relationships with other organizations. We may need to work with others to address its responsibilities. These can include peer organizations, competitors – and this while taking care to avoid anti-competitive behaviour - other parts of the value chain or any other relevant party within our sphere of influence.

Although many people use the terms social responsibility and sustainable development interchangeably - and there is a close relationship between the two - they are different concepts.

Sustainable development is a widely accepted concept and guiding objective that gained international recognition following the publication in 1987 of the Report of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of society while living within the planet's ecological limits and without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Sustainable development has three dimensions – economic, social and environmental – which are interdependent; for instance, the elimination of poverty requires the promotion of social justice and economic development and the protection of the environment.

The importance of these objectives has been reiterated over the years since 1987 in numerous international forums, such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

Social responsibility has the organization – our practices - as its focus and concerns our responsibilities to society and the environment. Social responsibility is closely linked to sustainable development. Because sustainable development is about the economic, social and environmental goals common to all people, it can be used as a way of summing up the broader expectations of society that need to be considered by us seeking to act responsibly.

Therefore, an overarching objective of our social responsibility should be to contribute to sustainable development.

The objective of sustainable development is to achieve sustainability for society as a whole and the planet. It does not concern the sustainability or ongoing viability of any specific organization. The sustainability of an individual organization may, or may not, be compatible with the sustainability of a society, which is attained by addressing social, economic and environmental aspects in an integrated manner.

Sustainable consumption, sustainable resource use and sustainable livelihoods are relevant to us all and relate to the sustainability of a society.

Standards cannot replace, alter or in any way change the duty of the state to act in the public interest.  Standards does not provide guidance on what should be subject to legally binding obligations; neither is it intended to address questions that can only properly be resolved through political institutions.

Because the state has the unique power to create and enforce the law, it is different from organizations.

For instance, the duty of the state to protect human rights is different from those responsibilities of organizations regarding human rights.

The proper functioning of the state is indispensable for sustainable development. The role of the state is essential in ensuring the effective application of laws and regulations so as to foster a culture of compliance with the law. Governmental organizations, like any other organizations, may wish to use standards to inform their policies, decisions and activities related to aspects of social responsibility.

Governments can assist organizations in their efforts to operate in a socially responsible manner in many ways, such as in the recognition and promotion of social responsibility. However, promoting the social responsibility of organizations is not and cannot be a substitute for the effective exercise of state duties and responsibilities.

When approaching and practising social responsibility, the overarching objective is to maximize our contribution to sustainable development. Within this objective, although there is no definitive list of principles for social responsibility, we should respect the seven principles to be discussed.

We should base our behaviour on standards, guidelines or rules of conduct that are in accordance with accepted principles of right or good conduct in the context of specific situations, even when these situations are challenging.

It is advisable that we shall take into consideration societal, environmental, legal, cultural, political and organizational diversity, as well as differences in economic conditions, while being consistent with international norms of behaviour.

The first principle: Accountability

We should be accountable for our impacts on society, the economy and the environment. This principle suggests that we should accept appropriate scrutiny and accept a duty to respond to this scrutiny.

Accountability involves an obligation on management to be answerable to the controlling interests of the organization and on the organization to be answerable to legal authorities regarding laws and regulations.

Accountability for the overall impact our decisions and activities on society and the environment and implies that we are answerable to those affected by our decisions and activities, as well as to society in general, and this varies according to the nature of the impact and the circumstances.

Being accountable will have a positive impact on both our practices and society. The degree of accountability may vary but should always correspond to the amount or extent of authority. Those with ultimate authority are likely to take greater care for the quality of their decisions and oversight.

Accountability also encompasses accepting responsibility where wrongdoing has occurred, taking the appropriate measures to remedy the wrongdoing and taking action to prevent it from being repeated.

We should account for:

  • the impacts of our decisions and activities on society, the environment and the economy, especially significant negative consequences; and

  • the actions taken to prevent repetition of unintended and unforeseen negative impacts.

The second principle: Transparency

We should be transparent in our decisions and activities that impact on society and the environment.

We should disclose in a clear, accurate and complete manner, and to a reasonable and sufficient degree, the policies, decisions and activities for which we responsible, including their known and likely impacts on society and the environment. This information should be readily available, directly accessible and understandable to those who have been, or may be, affected in significant ways.

It should be timely and factual and be presented in a clear and objective manner to enable stakeholders to accurately assess the impact that our decisions and activities have on their respective interests.

The principle of transparency does not require that proprietary information be made public, nor does it involve providing information that is privileged or that would breach legal, commercial, security or personal privacy obligations.

We should be transparent regarding:

  • the purpose, nature and location of our activities;

  • the identity of any controlling interest in the activity of our practices;

  • the way our decisions are made, implemented and reviewed, including the definition of the roles, responsibilities, accountabilities and authorities across the different functions in the practice;

  • standards and criteria against which we evaluates our own performance relating to social responsibility;

  • our performance on relevant and significant issues of social responsibility;

  • the sources, amounts and application of our funds;

  • the known and likely impacts of our decisions and activities on our stakeholders, society, the economy and the environment; and

  • our stakeholders and the criteria and procedures used to identify, select and engage them.

The third principle: Ethical behaviour

We should behave ethically.

Our behaviour should be based on the values of honesty, equity and integrity. These values imply a concern for people, animals and the environment and a commitment to address the impact of our activities and decisions on stakeholders' interests.

We should actively promote ethical behaviour by:

  • identifying and stating its core values and principles;

  • developing and using governance structures that help to promote ethical behaviour within our practices, in its decision making and in its interactions with others;

  • identifying, adopting and applying standards of ethical behaviour appropriate to its purpose and activities;

  • encouraging and promoting the observance of our standards of ethical behaviour;

  • defining and communicating the standards of ethical behaviour expected from our governance structure, personnel, suppliers, contractors and, when appropriate, owners and managers, and particularly from those that have the opportunity, while preserving local cultural identity, to significantly influence the values, culture, integrity, strategy and operation of our practice and the people acting on its behalf;

  • preventing or resolving conflicts of interest throughout our practices that could otherwise lead to unethical behaviour;

  • establishing and maintaining oversight mechanisms and controls to monitor, support and enforce ethical behaviour;

  • establishing and maintaining mechanisms to facilitate the reporting of unethical behaviour without fear of reprisal;

  • recognizing and addressing situations where local laws and regulations either do not exist or conflict with ethical behaviour.

The fourth principle: Respect for stakeholder interests

We should respect, consider and respond to the interests of its stakeholders.

Although objectives may be limited to the interests of its owners, members, customers or constituents, other individuals or groups may also have rights, claims or specific interests that should be considered. Collectively, these individuals or groups comprise our stakeholders.

We should:

  • identify our stakeholders;

  • recognize and have due regard for the interests as well as the legal rights of our stakeholders and respond to their expressed concerns;

  • recognize that some stakeholders can significantly affect our activities;

  • assess and consider the relative ability of stakeholders to contact, engage with and influence us;

  • consider the relation of our stakeholders' interests to the broader expectations of society and to sustainable development, as well as the nature of the stakeholders' relationship with us and

  • consider the views of stakeholders whose interests are likely to be affected by a decision or activity even if they have no formal role in the governance of our practices or are unaware of these interests.

The fifth principle: Respect for the rule of law

We should accept that respect for the rule of law is mandatory.

The rule of law refers to the supremacy of law and to the idea that no individual or organization stands above the law and that government is also subject to the law.

The rule of law contrasts with the arbitrary exercise of power. It is generally implicit in the rule of law that laws and regulations are written, publicly disclosed and fairly enforced according to established procedures.

In the context of social responsibility, respect for the rule of law means that we comply with all applicable laws and regulations. This implies that we should take steps to be aware of applicable laws and regulations, to inform those within our practices of their obligation to observe and to implement those measures.

We should:

  • comply with legal requirements in all jurisdictions in which we operates, even if those laws and regulations are not adequately enforced;

  • ensure that our relationships and activities comply with the intended and applicable legal framework;

  • keep ourselves informed of all legal obligations; and

  • periodically review our compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

The sixth principle: Respect for international norms of behaviour

We should respect international norms of behaviour, while adhering to the principle of respect for the rule of law.

In situations where the law or its implementation does not provide for adequate environmental or social safeguards, we should strive to respect, as a minimum, international norms of behaviour.

  • In countries where the law or its implementation conflicts with international norms of behaviour, we should strive to respect such norms to the greatest extent possible.

  • In situations where the law or its implementation conflicts with international norms of behaviour and where not following these norms would have significant consequences, we should, as feasible and appropriate, review the nature of our relationships and activities within that jurisdiction.

  • We should consider legitimate opportunities and channels to seek to influence relevant organizations and authorities to remedy any such conflict.

  • We should avoid being complicit in the activities of another organization that are not consistent with international norms of behaviour.

And the seventh principle: Respect for human rights

We should respect human rights and recognize both their importance and their universality.

We should:

  • respect and, where possible, promote the rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights and in our own Constitution;

  • respect the universality of these rights, that is, that they are indivisibly applicable in all countries, cultures and situations;

  • in situations where human rights are not protected, take steps to respect human rights and avoid taking advantage of these situations; and

  • in situations where the law or its implementation does not provide for adequate protection of human rights, adhere to the principle of respect for international norms of behaviour

The recognition of social responsibility involves identifying the issues raised by the impacts of our decisions and activities, as well as the way these issues should be addressed to contribute to sustainable development.

The recognition of social responsibility also involves the recognition of our stakeholders. A basic principle of social responsibility is that an organization should respect and consider the interests of its stakeholders that will be affected by its decisions and activities.

In addressing its social responsibility, we should understand three relationships:

  • the relationship between us and society: We should understand and recognize how our decisions and activities impact on society and the environment. We should also understand society's expectations of responsible behaviour concerning these impacts. This should be done by considering the core subjects and issues of social responsibility

  • the relationship between us and our stakeholders: We should be aware of our various stakeholders. These are the individuals or groups whose interests could be affected by the decisions and activities of our practices; and

  • the relationship between the stakeholders and society: We should understand the relationship between the stakeholders' interests that are affected by us, on the one hand, and the expectations of society on the other. Although stakeholders are part of society, they may have an interest that is not consistent with the expectations of society. Stakeholders have interests about the organization that can be distinguished from societal expectations of socially responsible behaviour regarding any issue. For example, the interest of a supplier in being paid and the interest of society in contracts being honoured can be different perspectives on the same issue.

In recognizing its social responsibility, we will need to take all three relationships into account. We, our stakeholders and society are likely to have different perspectives, because our objectives may not be the same. It should be recognized that individuals and organizations may have many and diverse interests that can be affected by the decisions and activities we make.

An effective way for us to identify our social responsibility is to become familiar with the issues concerning social responsibility in the following seven core subjects:

  • organizational governance;

  • human rights;

  • labour practices;

  • the environment;

  • fair operating practices;

  • consumer issues;

  • and community involvement and development.

These core subjects cover the most likely economic, environmental and social impacts that should be addressed by us. Every core subject, but not necessarily each issue, has some relevance for us.

The impacts of our decisions and activities should be considered with a view to these issues. Moreover, the core subjects and their respective issues can be described or categorized in various ways.

We should review all the core subjects to identify which issues are relevant. The identification of relevant issues should be followed by an assessment of the significance of our impacts. The significance of an impact should be considered with reference both to the stakeholders concerned and to the way in which the impact affects sustainable development.

When recognizing the core subjects and issues of our social responsibility, we are helped by considering interactions with other organizations. We should also consider the impact of our decisions and activities on stakeholders.

If we seek to recognize our social responsibility, we should consider both legally-binding and any other obligations that exist. Legally binding obligations include applicable laws and regulations, as well as obligations concerning social, economic or environmental issues that may exist in enforceable contracts. We should consider the commitments that we have made regarding social responsibility. Such commitments could be in ethical codes of conduct or guidelines or in the membership obligations of associations to which we belong.

Recognizing social responsibility is a continuous process. The potential impacts of decisions and activities should be determined and considered during the planning stage of new activities. Ongoing activities should be reviewed as necessary so that we can be confident that our social responsibility is still being addressed and can determine whether additional issues need to be considered.

We are responsible for the impacts of decisions and activities over which we have formal and/or de facto control – and here de facto control refers to situations where one party can dictate the decisions and activities of another party, even where it does not have the legal or formal authority to do so.

Such impacts can be extensive. In addition to being responsible for our own decisions and activities, we may, in some situations, can affect the behaviour of others with which we have relationships.

Such situations are considered to fall within our sphere of influence.

This sphere of influence includes relationships within and beyond our value chain. However, not all of our value chain necessarily falls within our sphere of influence. It can include the formal and informal associations in which it participates, as well as peer organizations or competitors.

We do not always have a responsibility to exercise influence purely because we can do so. For instance, we cannot be held responsible for the impacts of other over which we may have some influence if the impact is not a result of our decisions and activities. However, there will be situations where we will have a responsibility to exercise influence. These situations are determined by the extent to which our relationship is contributing to negative impacts.

There will also be situations where, though we do not have a responsibility to exercise influence, we may nevertheless wish, or be asked, to do so voluntarily.

We may decide whether to have a relationship with another entity and the nature and extent of that relationship. There will be situations where we have the responsibility to be alert to the impacts created by the decisions and activities of others and to take steps to avoid or to mitigate the negative impacts connected to our relationship with such organizations.

When assessing our sphere of influence and determining our responsibilities, we should exercise due diligence to avoid contributing to negative impacts through our relationships.

Stakeholders are organizations or individuals that have one or more interests in any decision or activity we take. Because these interests can be affected by an organization, a relationship with the organization is created. This relationship need not be formal. The relationship created by this interest exists whether the parties are aware of it. We may not always be aware of all our stakeholders, although we should attempt to identify them. Similarly, many stakeholders may not be aware of the potential of us to affect their interests.

In this context, interest refers to the actual or potential basis of a claim, that is, to demand something that is owed or to demand respect for a right. Such a claim need not to involve financial demands or legal rights.

Sometimes it can simply be the right to be heard. The relevance or significance of an interest is best determined by its relationship to sustainable development.

Understanding how individuals or groups are or can be affected by our decisions and activities will make it possible to identify the interests that establish a relationship with the organization. Therefore, our determination of the impacts of our decisions and activities will facilitate identification of our most important stakeholders.

We may have many stakeholders. Moreover, different stakeholders have various and sometimes competing interests. For example, community residents' interests could include the positive impacts of an organization, such as employment, as well as the negative impacts of the same organization, such as pollution.

Some stakeholders are an integral part of an organization. These include any members, employees or owners of the organization. These stakeholders share a common interest in the purpose of the organization and in its success. This does not mean, however, that all their interests regarding the organization will be the same.

The interests of most stakeholders can be related to the social responsibility of the organization and often are very similar to some of the interests of society. An example is the interest of a property owner whose property loses value because of a new source of pollution or a building that is going to be erected on an adjacent property.

Not all stakeholders belong to organized groups that have the purpose of representing their interests to specific organizations. Many stakeholders may not be organized at all, and for this reason, they may be overlooked or even ignored. This problem may be especially important regarding vulnerable groups and future generations.

Groups advocating social or environmental causes may be stakeholders whose decisions and activities have a relevant and significant impact on these causes.

We should examine whether groups claiming to speak on behalf of specific stakeholders or advocating specific causes are representative and credible. In some cases, it will not be possible for important interests to be directly represented. For instance, children rarely own or control organized groups of people; wildlife cannot do so. In this situation, we should give attention to the views of credible groups seeking to protect such interests.

To identify stakeholders, we should ask itself the following questions:

  • To whom do we have legal obligations?

  • Who might be positively or negatively affected by our decisions or activities?

  • Who is likely to express concerns about the decisions and activities we make?

  • Who has been involved in the past when similar concerns needed to be addressed?

  • Who can help us address specific impacts?

  • Who can affect our ability to meet our responsibilities?

  • Who would be disadvantaged if excluded from the engagement?

  • Who in the value chain is affected?

Stakeholder engagement involves dialogue between us and one or more of our stakeholders. It assists us in addressing our social responsibility by providing an informed basis for our decisions.

Stakeholder engagement can take many forms. It can be initiated by us, or it can begin as a response by us to one or more stakeholders. It can take place in either informal or formal meetings and can follow a wide variety of formats such as individual meetings, conferences, workshops, public hearings, round-table discussions, advisory committees, regular and structured information and consultation procedures, collective bargaining and web-based forums.

Stakeholder engagement should be interactive and is intended to provide opportunities for stakeholders' views to be heard. Its essential feature is that it involves two-way communication.

There are various reasons for us to engage with our stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement can be used to:

  • increase our understanding of the likely consequences of our decisions and activities on specific stakeholders;

  • determine how best to increase the beneficial impacts of our decisions and activities and how to lessen any adverse impact;

  • determine whether claims about social responsibility are perceived to be credible;

  • help us to review our performance so we can improve;

  • reconcile conflicts involving own interests, those of our stakeholders and the expectations of society as a whole;

  • address the link between the stakeholders' interests and our responsibilities to society at large;

  • contribute to continuous learning by us

  • fulfil legal obligations;

  • address conflicting interests, either between ourselves and stakeholders or between stakeholders;

  • provide us with the benefits of obtaining diverse perspectives;

  • increase transparency of our decisions and activities; and

  • form partnerships to achieve mutually beneficial objectives.

In most situations we will already know, or can easily learn, society's expectations of the way we should address our impacts. In such circumstances, we need not rely on engagement with specific stakeholders to understand these expectations, although the stakeholder engagement process can provide other benefits.

Society's expectations are also found in laws and regulations, widely accepted social or cultural expectations and established standards or best practices regarding specific matters. Expectations established through stakeholder engagement should supplement rather than replace already established expectations concerning our behaviour.

A fair and proper process based on engaging the most relevant stakeholders should be developed. The interest - or interests - of organizations or individuals identified as stakeholders should be genuine. The identification process should seek to ascertain whether they have been or are likely to be impacted by any decision and activity.

Where possible and practical, engagement should be with the most representative organizations reflecting these interests. Effective stakeholder engagement is based on good faith and goes beyond public relations.

When engaging stakeholders, we should not give preference to an organized group because it is more “friendly” or supports our objectives more than another group. We should not neglect engaging stakeholders merely because they are silent. We should not create or support groups to give the appearance that it has a dialogue partner when the supposed partner is not in fact independent.

Genuine stakeholder dialogue involves independent parties and transparent disclosure of any financial or similar support. We should be conscious of the effect of our decisions and activities on the interests and needs of our stakeholders. We should have due regard for our stakeholders as well as their varying capacities and needs to contact and engage with us.

Stakeholder engagement is more likely to be meaningful when the following elements are present:

  • a clear purpose for the engagement is understood;

  • the stakeholder's interests have been identified;

  • the relationship that these interests establish between us and the stakeholder is direct or important;

  • the interests of stakeholders are relevant and significant to sustainable development;

  • and the stakeholders have the necessary information and understanding to make their decisions.


Human rights are the basic rights to which all human beings are entitled. There are two broad categories of human rights.

The first category concerns civil and political rights and includes such rights as the right to life and liberty, equality before the law and freedom of expression.

The second category concerns economic, social and cultural rights and includes such rights as the right to work, the right to food, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to education and the right to social security.

Various moral, legal and intellectual norms are based on the premise that human rights transcend laws or cultural traditions. The primacy of human rights has been emphasized by the international community in the International Bill of Human Rights and core human rights instruments.

More broadly, we will benefit from a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms can be fully realized. While most human rights law relates to relationships between the state and individuals, it is widely acknowledged that non-state organizations can affect individuals' human rights, and hence have a responsibility to respect them.


Recognition and respect for human rights are widely regarded as essential to the rule of law and to concepts of social justice and fairness and as the basic underpinning of the most essential institutions of society such as the judicial system. States have a duty and responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. We have the responsibility to respect human rights, including within our sphere of influence.

Human rights are inherent, inalienable, universal, indivisible and interdependent:

  • they are inherent, in that they belong to every person by virtue of being human;

  • they are inalienable, in that people cannot consent to giving them up or be deprived of them by governments or any other institution;

  • they are universal, in that they apply to everyone regardless of any status;

  • they are indivisible, in that no human rights may be selectively ignored; and

  • they are interdependent, in that realization of one right contributes to the realization of other rights.

States have a duty to protect individuals and groups against abuse of human rights, as well as to respect and fulfil human rights within their jurisdiction. States are increasingly taking steps to encourage organizations based in their jurisdiction to respect human rights even where they operate outside that jurisdiction.

It is widely recognized that organizations and individuals have the potential to and do affect human rights, directly and indirectly. We have a responsibility to respect all human rights, regardless of whether the state is unable or unwilling to fulfil its duty to protect.

To respect human rights means, in the first place, to not infringe the rights of others. This responsibility entails taking positive steps to ensure that the organization avoids passively accepting or actively participating in the infringement of rights.

To discharge the responsibility to respect human rights requires due diligence. Where the state fails in its duty to protect, we should be especially vigilant to ensure that it meets its responsibility to respect human rights; human rights due diligence may point to the need for action beyond what is necessary in the normal course of business.

Some fundamental norms of criminal law impose legal accountability and liability on individuals and organizations as well as states for serious abuse of international human rights. These include the prohibition of torture, crimes against humanity, slavery and genocide.

In some countries, organizations are subject to prosecution under national legislation based on internationally recognized crimes. Other human rights instruments determine the scope of legal obligations of organizations about human rights and the manner of their implementation and enforcement.

The baseline responsibility of non-state organizations is to respect human rights. However, we may face stakeholder expectations that it goes beyond respect, or it may want to contribute to the fulfilment of human rights. The concept of sphere of influence helps us to comprehend the extent of opportunities to support human rights among different rights holders. Thus it may help us to analyse our ability to influence or encourage other parties, the human rights issues on which it can have the greatest impact and the rights holders that would be concerned.

An organization's opportunities to support human rights will often be greatest among its own operations and employees. Additionally, an organization will have opportunities to work with its suppliers, peers or other organizations and the broader society. In some cases, organizations may wish to increase their influence through collaboration with other organizations and individuals.

Assessment of the opportunities for action and for greater influence will depend on the circumstances, some specific to the organization and some specific to the context in which it is operating.

However, we should always consider the potential for negative or unintended consequences when seeking to influence other organizations.

We should consider facilitating human rights education to promote awareness of human rights among rights holders and those with the potential to have an impact on them.

To respect human rights, we have a responsibility to exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and address actual or potential human rights impacts resulting from their activities or the activities of those with which they have relationships.

Due diligence may also alert us to a responsibility to influence the behaviour of others, where they may be the cause of human rights violations in which we may be implicated.

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