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Workshop: Measuring Human Rights Performance: Metrics that Drive Change

Late last month The Center and RFKennedy Compass Program at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights brought together a diverse group of more than 80 people from large companies, the investment community (including both the New York City and State Comptrollers offices), Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) measurement firms, academics, and NGOs to help us develop human rights performance metrics. A specific objective of the conference was to identify a small list of 5-8 performance metrics for each of five industries to help investors and consumers identify “high road” firms they can reward with their investment or purchasing dollars. 

Over a day and a half we put the participants to work, dividing them in several breakout groups where we pushed for very practical, creative discussions of how to measure human rights performance in an investment context. In every sense it was a working meeting focused on how to identify desired human rights outcomes in five industries: manufacturing, information and communications technology, food and beverage, construction and extractives. Each of the participants was assigned to one of these five industry-specific table discussions. The groups first identified desired human rights outcomes for their industry and then focused on developing performance metrics would distinguish "high road" firms in the industry. We had a very active participation and lively debate. Each of the five working groups engaged enthusiastically in this exercise, and benefited from the diverse nature of the working group, as well as cross sectoral comparisons that emerged. 

We received a great deal of positive feedback from those who participated about the organization, content and potential outcomes of the meeting. Here are just two of the comments we received, reflective of what we heard from a number of other participants.

"Wonderful two days of brainstorming and exchange of brilliant ideas.  Bringing the investor community along with multiple data and service providers together with the corporates who face the challenge was an excellent approach."

"Kudos on a thought provoking and purposeful discussion of outcome oriented benchmarks for measuring human rights performance of companies in a range of industry sectors. It was refreshing to get beyond policies and process, to have the freedom to interact unbounded by our usual stakeholder identities and to problem solve for affected individuals and communities."

We are now working to develop a white paper that will examine the gaps in existing strategies for measuring social factors in investment and that will propose alternative approaches and draft metrics. We hope to present the preliminary outline of the paper at the RFK Compass conference in late June. We are excited about the possibilities of this research agenda. This is a challenging but important area, and we are determined to make a difference in advancing this agenda in the months and years ahead.