Human Rights and Labor Practices in ESG


ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, is a framework used in investing that takes non-financial factors into consideration in addition to traditional financial metrics. ESG factors include:

  • Environmental considerations such as climate change, resource usage, and pollution
  • Social factors such as human rights, labor practices, and community impact and,
  • Governance factors such as corporate governance, ethics, and transparency.

The importance of ESG in investing has been growing rapidly in recent years as investors have recognized that a company’s performance in these non-financial areas can have a significant impact on its long-term sustainability and profitability. ESG investing is seen as a way to integrate sustainability and social responsibility into investment decision-making, with the goal of achieving both financial returns and positive societal and environmental outcomes.

Human Rights in ESG

Human rights are fundamental rights[1] and freedoms that every person is entitled to, regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, or other characteristics. Human rights include a wide range of things, such as the right to work, social justice, equality, and not being treated unfairly. In the context of ESG investing, considering human rights is crucial, as it reflects a company’s commitment to responsible and ethical business practices.

1. Human Rights Issues in the Workplace:

 Workplace-related human rights issues can include fair treatment of employees, safe working conditions, fair wages, working hours, freedom of association, and protection against discrimination and harassment. These issues are crucial in evaluating a company’s commitment to upholding human rights and ensuring a fair and inclusive work environment.

2. Examples of Human Rights Violations in Supply Chains:

Supply chains can pose risks to human rights, with issues such as forced labor, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and exploitation of vulnerable workers. These violations can occur in various industries and geographies and can have severe social and reputational impacts on companies that fail to address them effectively.

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3. The Role of Companies in Upholding Human Rights:

Companies have a responsibility to respect and protect human rights throughout their operations and supply chains. This includes conducting due diligence to identify and address human rights risks, implementing policies and practices that promote human rights, engaging with stakeholders, and providing remediation for any human rights violations that may occur.

Labor Practices in ESG

Labor practices are a crucial aspect of the social pillar of ESG and are closely linked to issues such as human rights, employee welfare, and social justice. Integrating labor practices into ESG investing involves assessing a company’s labor-related policies, practices, and performance to evaluate its commitment to fair and ethical labor management.

1. Labor Rights and Fair Labor Practices:

 Companies should respect and protect the labor rights of their employees, including fair wages, safe working conditions, reasonable working hours, and freedom of association. Fair labor practices also involve providing opportunities for skill development, promoting diversity and inclusion, and fostering a positive work culture that promotes employee well-being.

2. Labor Exploitation in Global Supply Chains:

 Supply chains can pose risks to labor practices, with issues such as forced labor, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and exploitation of workers. Companies need to conduct thorough due diligence on their supply chains to identify and address labor exploitation risks, and work towards promoting fair labor practices across their entire value chain.

3. The Business Case for Ethical Labor Practices:

 Ethical labor practices can benefit companies in various ways, including improving employee morale, productivity, and retention, reducing legal and reputational risks, enhancing brand value and customer loyalty, and fostering long-term sustainability. Companies that prioritize fair labor practices are more likely to attract and retain investors, customers, and talent in today’s socially conscious business environment.

ESG Reporting and Standards on Human Rights and Labor Practices

ESG reporting and standards play a crucial role in promoting transparency and accountability in companies’ environmental, social, and governance practices. In the context of human rights and labor practices, several reporting initiatives and frameworks have been established to guide companies in disclosing their performance in these areas. In this section, we will explore some of the key reporting standards related to human rights and labor practices.

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1. Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Human Rights:

The GRI is a widely recognized and widely used framework for sustainability reporting. It includes specific guidelines on reporting human rights issues, such as the company’s policies, practices, and performance related to labor rights, non-discrimination, diversity and inclusion, and freedom of association. The GRI framework provides a comprehensive approach for companies to disclose their human rights-related efforts and impacts.

2. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and Labor Practices:

 The SASB is a standards-setting organization that focuses on sustainability disclosure standards for companies. It has specific standards related to labor practices, including topics such as employee health and safety, labor management relations, diversity and inclusion, and talent management. SASB standards provide a sector-specific approach for companies to report on labor practices, taking into account industry-specific risks and impacts.

3. Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and Social Issues:

While the TCFD primarily focuses on climate-related disclosures, it also recognizes the importance of social issues, including human rights and labor practices, as part of the social pillar of ESG. The TCFD guidelines emphasize the need for companies to disclose information on their labor practices, including workforce management, employee engagement, and supply chain labor issues, as they can have material impacts on a company’s performance and reputation.

4. Other ESG Reporting Frameworks and Standards:

 Apart from GRI, SASB, and TCFD, there are other ESG reporting frameworks and standards that also address human rights and labor practices. Examples include the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Principles, the ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility, and industry-specific initiatives such as the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) Code of Conduct for labor practices in the electronics industry. These frameworks provide additional guidance and requirements for companies to report on their human rights and labor practices performance.

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Best Practices For ESG Investors

1. Integrating Human Rights and Labor Practices into ESG Strategies

  • Conduct thorough ESG assessments that include human rights and labor practices as integral factors.
  • Incorporate human rights and labor practices as key considerations in the investment decision-making process.
  • Seek companies with strong policies and practices that align with international human rights standards and fair labor practices.

2. Engaging with Companies on Human Rights and Labor Issues

  • Engage in active ownership through dialogues with companies on their human rights and labor practices.
  • Use shareholder advocacy to influence corporate behavior and push for improvements in human rights and labor practices.
  • Collaborate with other investors and stakeholders to amplify the impact of engagement efforts.

3. Collaborating with Stakeholders to Promote Positive Change

  • Collaborate with NGOs, industry associations, and other stakeholders to advocate for better human rights and labor practices in the industry.
  • Support and participate in industry initiatives and partnerships that promote responsible business practices related to human rights and labor.

4. Monitoring and Reporting on Human Rights and Labor Performance

  • Establish robust monitoring and reporting mechanisms to assess the human rights and labor performance of investee companies.
  • Use recognized reporting frameworks, such as GRI and SASB, to disclose relevant information on human rights and labor practices in portfolio companies.
  • Hold companies accountable for their human rights and labor practices through regular monitoring and reporting, and take appropriate actions based on the findings.


Therefore, human rights and labor practices are crucial considerations in ESG investing, with companies, investors, and stakeholders playing a vital role in promoting responsible and ethical business practices. ESG reporting and standards provide transparency and accountability, and investors can drive change through active ownership. The future outlook for human rights and labor practices in ESG is optimistic, with growing awareness and demand for sustainable investing. Together, we can work towards a more sustainable and just future.

Read our Article: Human Rights and ESG: The Intersection of International Law and Business Responsibilities

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