Are human rights relevant to Malaysian business?

by Esther Teh

Globally, human rights have been recognised as a critical part of responsible business. With the launch of the United Nation’s (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, it was clearly reiterated that companies have a responsibility to avoid human rights abuses resulting from their own activities or in their supply chains. The UN Global Compact’s Principle 1 & 2 on human rights also call on business to develop an awareness of human rights and to use their sphere of influence to uphold these universal values.

In Malaysia, human rights impacts of business have not been widely discussed or addressed. However, in the past year the role of business in upholding, respecting and promoting human rights have been highlighted. In June, Malaysia’s position was downgraded from the Tier 2 ‘Watch list’ to Tier 3 in the United States’ State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report due to issues such as forced labour in the Malaysian electronics and garment industrychild labour in the palm oil industryexploitation of migrant workers at vegetable farms in Cameron Highlandstreatment of local timber workers and in the mining industry in Sarawak.

In addition to the human tragedy of these stories, which cannot be underestimated, there is also tremendous damage involved for Malaysia’s reputation and international companies’ loss of faith in Malaysian businesses in their supply chain that can have tremendous commercial impacts.

This year’s international Human Rights Day, celebrated last week promotes the theme ‘Human Rights 365’. It is a timely reminder for companies to note that human rights is an everyday issue, and not just something to look at once a year. Businesses have an enormous potential to create opportunities and improve life chances for many whether in terms of equality, security or even personal, economic, social and cultural freedoms.

Companies can take these practical steps to address human rights issues:

Map potential issues and manage the risk. More and more businesses are coming to realise their legal, moral and economic need to address human rights issues within their own activities and their business relationships. As part of a company’s responsibility to respect human rights, companies are expected not only to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts, but also to address human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products, or services by their business relationships, even if the company has not contributed to those impacts.

Develop human rights policy and communicate publicly. UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsstate the following in guiding principle 16: “As the basis for embedding their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy”. Many companies have communicated publicly their company policy statement on human rights. This may not necessarily be enough to ward of human rights issues but at least being proactive will prepare companies to effectively deal with crises, when they happen. Many tools and resources are available to help guide companies.

Keep your ear to the ground and get on the ground. Companies need to understand and assess the actual and potential impact on human rights through their business activities by engaging internal and external stakeholders. Companies need to know what is going on in their business operation and supply chain not just through asking the suppliers the right questions and auditing but seeing the real situation.

The understanding and integration of human rights in business practice will strengthen the positive role that business can play towards a sustainable and inclusive global economy in which human rights are fully respected.

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We are looking for a Project Manager

Sustainability Project Manager

Helikonia is looking for a Project Manager to support our client work on sustainability and stakeholder engagement work.

Helikonia develops sustainability reports and policies, and supports a wide range of organisations in working together on projects related to deforestation and human rights. We are a small team based in Kuala Lumpur, but have a large network of colleagues across the world who we work with in virtual teams.

We are looking for a passionate individual to support this work starting in mid-February. The job scope will be constantly evolving, depending on client projects and your own performance, but will focus on:

  • Supporting multistakeholder groups, organising meetings, taking minutes, developing briefings, updating websites and managing workstreams and consultations
  • Drafting sustainability reports to a high standard in accordance with international guidance
  • Supporting events, such as trainings and conferences hosted by Helikonia and our partners

We hope to get a colleague who is:

  • Flexible: You will be working closely with large teams across the world, so it is essential that you are flexible about working hours to accommodate time zone differences.
  • Adaptable: Job priorities and requirements may change and require you to learn new software skills or familiarise yourself with new topics outside your field of expertise
  • Meticulous: The quality of our work is essential and we expect each team member to take responsibility for outputs and undertake peer review and quality control of project deliverables

We would expect you to have:

  • A Master’s degree in a field related to sustainable development. This can range from economics, legal, or natural and social sciences, but it is essential that you can work with and analyse complex data as this is required for most projects.
  • At least two years’ experience in a corporate or NGO environment.
  • A high standard of written English ability.
  • Robust experience with MS Office and willingness to learn additional IT skills

What we offer:

  • A friendly working culture as part of a small, energetic team based in KL
  • Opportunities to engage with a large network of companies and international NGOs as part of the job
  • Flexible hours on agreement
  • A competitive salary, health insurance (subject to approval), generous performance-based bonus scheme
  • Opportunity to grow and expand the role: If you do well our flat structure allow for ongoing evolvement of opportunities

If you are interested in this role, please send a cover letter and a CV by 20 January 2015 to info@helikonia.com.my

You can download the job posting as a PDF here.

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Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil inaugural Impact Report launched

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil have issued its first impact report which sets out the achievements of the organisatio across key areas  – planet, people and profits.

Among the accomplishments highlighted in the report, is the fact that 18% of world’s palm oil production is now RSPO certified, a number which is arguably only set to grow as more companies become RSPO members and adopt responsible palm oil souring policies.
Download the report here
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Agropalma releases first Sustainability Report

Agropalma SR13 thumb

The Brazilian palm oil producer has released its very first sustainability report. The company is widely recognised as one of the leading producers of responsible, sustainable certified palm oil. The report documents Agropalma’s progress in providing fully traceable palm oil products, as well as efforts in forest protection, community engagement and labour conditions.

Download the report here

 

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Wilmar’s latest Sustainability Report is now online

Wilmar SR 2013 Thumb (2)

Wilmar International has published the company’s latest Sustainability Report for 2012-13. The report details performance, progress and challenges as well as plans to implement the Grup’s groundbreaking Integrated policy. The report can be downloaded here

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Two new palm oil sustainability reports now online

Kulim and Felda Global Ventures (FGV) have recently launched their latest sustainability reports. This is Kulim’s fourth Sustainability Report, covering the years 2012/13. For FGV, this is a brand new initiative. Both reports can be downloaded here

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The value of sustainability report assurance

by Gabriel Chong  gabriel@helikonia.com.my

We have just completed a very busy period of writing sustainability reports. For a few companies, we worked with them on having their reports assured by an independent assurance provider. Here are some reflections on the value a robust assurance process can add to a sustainability report and a company.

It’s not necessary for everyone - We have had companies about to do their first report tell us they want to do an assurance. When probed on why they want it to be assured, they found it difficult to answer. Often it is because they have seen other companies have their reports assured. For companies undergoing their first report, an assurance is not always necessary. A first time report should focus on getting the process right and on principles of defining report content and quality of a sustainability report.

It’s all about the data - As the scope of a sustainability report expands to include more operating units, data management can become overwhelming. Sustainability is also increasingly becoming more sophisticated, with companies moving to real time data dashboards, and more complex, including sophisticated as data sets needed to generate greenhouse gas emissions information. Having a good assurance provider can help check the data to ensure data trends are correct and credible.

It’s ok to correct the data - For a few clients, the data assurance process discovered errors in some of their calculations. Although this may cause clients to worry or be concerned about reporting to management, it also confirms the value of a good assurance provider. Discovering data discrepancies should lead to improvements in internal data collection, and a more robust data process to avoid errors in the future. Good assurers will also advise on that data management process.

Understand who needs assuring - Traditional data assurance is not the only form of assurance that a company can undertake. We always ask clients who want to undertake assurance, “Who needs assuring? Who would find it difficult to believe your report?” This allows us to help determine which assurance process would help validate their report.

There are other forms of assurance which add value to a sustainability report:

  • Critical or key stakeholder commentary – A qualitative commentary on the material issues by a key or critical stakeholder.
  • Expert stakeholder panel – A panel of experts in the areas of materiality who can provide commentary on impact and direction of sustainability initiatives.
  • Reader’s poll – Using an interactive platform, readers of sustainability report can provide feedback on the level of satisfaction in reporting of material issues in the sustainability report.

The assurance process can be challenging and time consuming, especially if it is the first time a company embarks on it. However, when conducted in an independent and robust manner which understands areas of stakeholder skepticism, an assurance can add value.

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G4 – the verdict one year on?

by Rikke Netterstrom  rikke@helikonia.com.my

Last May, the Global Reporting Initiative issued their new G4 guidelines. They differed substantially on a number of counts, and the focus on materiality helped move away from a tick-box approach  and provide for a more tailored report which is responsive to stakeholder concerns. At least that was the idea. One year and no with substantial experience in using G4, we take a look at whether this has been achieved.

The short answer is that G4 is an enormous improvement over previous versions. It encourages mindful prioritisation and presentation of relevant data whilst requiring very little unnecessary fill. We now rarely have to have painful discussions with clients who fail to see the relevance in collecting particular data. If it isn’t material it isn’t included.

A large concerns from some of my colleagues – both in-house and consultant professionals is that the G4 focus so much on materiality, but that it still is a complex and abstract concept which is difficult to quantify. I can see how it is indeed a rather vague term, and I sometimes wonder if ‘relevance’ might be better and clearer. Regardless of terminology, I prefer to see the complexity as a way to providing the necessary flexibility. Each company, even within narrow sectors, is extremely different, and a robust materiality process allows for these differences to guide report content. This year, we are providing advisory on five reports within the palm oil sector, and it is fascinating to observe the huge differences in material issues. Likewise, the clearer message that organisation boundaries should not determine report focus is also helpful; for good companies with robust management structures child labour or corruption may not be an issue, but occurrences of these in the supply chain may well pose a larger reputational threat than any internal practices. G4’s guidance on this is excellent and helpful in explaining this to companies wary of exposing external risks.

Of course, there is no such thing as perfect, so a few things could be improved:

Remove remaining tick-boxes. Whilst many obligatory indicators have been removed, there are still a few niggles which in many cases seem like overkill. In particular I have found that the requirement to list all stakeholder engagement, outcomes etc in a table is a poor way of presenting the stakeholder engagement cycle. For many companies, stakeholder engagement is an integral part of their approach to all material aspects and is better integrated into separate sections, highlighting how the approach to each separate issue is informed by particular stakeholders. Likewise, I am not a big fan of the requirement to list out material aspects, as a good strategy section and disclosure of the materiality matrix should suffice.

Core vs Comprehensive: While I am delighted to be rid of the A, B & C rating, I’d like to see this remnant removed. I really cannot see any reason why this remains, as a company which truly adheres to the reporting principles will and should only report on material aspects.

Lack of clarity of target groups vs stakeholders. Over the past 7 years, I have run materiality matrix exercises for dozens of companies around the world and in a great variety of sectors. Most companies find this a tremendously helpful exercise. However, I think that the ‘stakeholder’ moniker is too broad for this exercise, as there will always be someone who finds a particular issue of high importance. I now start the exercise by identifying target groups for the report, and focus the vertical axis on this. This does not mean that non-target groups are considered, as these may very well be a concern for the target groups (e.g. customers may well be concerned about community land issues, and investors about climate change).

Overall, these are minor niggles, and we will often adjust the process to ensure that reports meet the objective of engaging stakeholders and delivering information which is relevant, rather than perfect GRI-compliance. But with G4, the GRI has demonstrated once again why it is the leading sustainability reporting framework, and no local or alternative guidance comes close

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New Britain Palm Oil releases new sustainability report

NBPOL launched the Group’s 2012-13 Sustainability Report, developed as integrated set of disclosures alongsode its annual report. NBPOL has created these ‘partner reports’ to underline the Group’s commitment to sustainability. The reports cover all of NBPOL’s global operations, including the New Britain Oils palm oil refinery in Liverpool, UK.

Download the report here

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