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Building human rights capabilities where it matters

Addressing the human rights issue head-on
Building human rights capabilities where it matters
Yann Wyss  

By Yann Wyss
Senior Public Affairs Manager – Social and Environmental Impact

Every year, Human Rights Day is commemorated on 10 December – the same day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United National General Assembly 70 years ago.

Held under the theme "Let's stand up for equality, justice and human dignity", Human Rights Day serves as a stark reminder that the principles set out in the Declaration have still a way to go before they are adopted universally.

A decade-long focus

At Nestlé, we have made the respect of human rights a priority for a long time.

Our work on this issue started in earnest ten years ago. Back then, we asked the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) to conduct a human rights gap analysis of our corporate policies and procedures.

In the ten years that ensued, we have worked relentlessly to embed the respect of human rights into our Corporate Business Principles and in 17 additional policies globally. This has helped us translate the human rights language, which can be at times very technical, into practical and easy-to-understand requirements for our employees and business partners.

Equally important, we have established a clear and functioning governance structure first at headquarters level, and subsequently in all markets, so as to ensure maximum accountability. Our Integrity Reporting System and 'Tell us', our external global grievance mechanism, were implemented, too, providing a convenient platform to report breach concerns.

In conjunction with DIHR, we have also conducted Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIA) in thirteen countries where we operate. This allowed us to identify and channel our resources on the eleven human rights issues that are the most salient – in other words to focus on human rights violations the most likely to materialize and impact our stakeholders through our activities and business relationships.

Huge inroads have been made through our Human Rights Due Diligence Programme, which we have used to improve our human rights performance across the entire company. However, more needs to be done.

Strengthening our training programme and governance structure

Embedding human rights into our day-to-day operations implies that all our employees at Nestlé understand what human rights entail. We are launching today a revised and enhanced version of our human rights training, which will help us meet our commitment to train all our employees worldwide by the end of 2020.

The training will be now an integral component of our onboarding programme for our new recruits, adding to the more than 96 000 Nestlé employees worldwide who have already been trained.

Our training aims to provide more than just a general understanding of the topic: it allows employees to appreciate how the issue of human rights abuses relates to the company as a whole, but also to their own areas of responsibility specifically. We will make this training tool publicly available in early 2019 so that other companies keen to address this issue can use it and adapt it to their own needs.

Our focus on training has been supplemented by a strengthening of our human rights governance structure at market level. Given our sheer size – we operate in more than 194 counties – the most effective way to address the issue of human rights abuses is to ramp up the capabilities of key functions locally. Only with people on the ground equipped with an intimate understanding of human rights do we stand a chance to get ahead of the issue.

In that spirit, Compliance Committees in each and every one of our markets are now responsible for managing human rights-related topics locally. In 2018, we deployed a toolkit and a dedicated training for Market Compliance Officers to support the establishment of a local governance structure to proactively and preemptively address human rights risks, bringing our approach to human rights due diligence to the next level.

While all those steps are certainly taking us a step closer to our goal to root out human rights abuses globally, more needs to be done – something we are all too aware. Some of the challenges we face in our sector, and in agricultural supply chains in particular, are systemic and complex, very often linked to situations over which we have no control. We will continue to work hard together with governments, civil society organizations and peers to make a real difference on the ground.


Yann is a senior member of Nestlé’s Public Affairs Team, focusing on issues pertaining to people, communities and the environment.