How do organizations work with corporations to improve human rights?

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How do organizations work with corporations to improve human rights?

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:

  • How can organizations help corporations assess their impact?  What is the specific role of the organization?
  • Can an organization monitor and collaborate at the same time?  When you start partnering, at what point are you not independent?
  • In what ways can organizations create incentive for corporations to improve their human rights impact? 
  • How do you get the attention of corporations?  How do we get them to react?
  • How do we build a culture in which corporations work with organizations as partners?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

Orgs can provide corporate trainings to help improve impact

Hi everyone!

I wanted to start off this discussion thread by sharing an example of how organizations are working with corporations to ensure that indigenous communities have free, prior and informed consent regarding the use of their land.  A collaboration between the NGO Business for Social Responsibility and First Peoples Worldwide, an Indigenous advocacy organization, produced a corporate training initiative that helps the private sector to build more effective, constructive relationships with Indigenous peoples.  Granted, this initiative was started about a decade ago, it is still a really interesting idea to explore.

New Tactics has documented this example in a "tactical notebook" titled Recipe for Dialogue: Corporate training for building relationships with Indigenous communities, in which Jo Render describes this corporate training initiative. The trainings, which are focused on extractive companies (mining, oil, gas and logging) are founded on respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights, aspirations and effective participation in the development process.

Background info: In December 2001, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights convened a workshop on "Indigenous Peoples, Private Sector Natural Resource, Energy and Mining Companies and Human Rights." The physical format of this workshop was indicative of the general atmosphere surrounding the issue: Indigenous representatives were lined up on one side of the room, companies were lined up along the other, and nongovernmental organizations sat in the middle. Governments chose not to attend. Toward the end of two days of very tense discussions, a representative from Rio Tinto (a U.K.- based mining company) asked a question of the Indigenous and NGO participants: rather than spend more time repeating everything that companies do wrong, can we (the communities and NGOs) provide more explicit direction to companies on how to do things right?

This challenge was accepted by First Peoples Worldwide and Business for Social Responsibility, two U.S.-based NGOs working internationally on corporate responsibility. Together we developed a training initiative designed as one step in increasing the capacity of companies to build more effective, constructive relationships with Indigenous peoples. The training, which is focused on extractive companies (mining, oil, gas and logging), is founded on a respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights, aspirations and effective participation in the decisions that affect them. Both Indigenous people and company personnel have been involved in the design and implementation of the curriculum. At the core of the training is the concept of free, prior and informed consent.

Have others developed corporate training projects to share important skills that help corporations improve their human rights impact?  We are eager to learn from you!  Please share your stories and experiences here!

Some thoughts on independence

 In my opinion, there are some characteristics an NGO must have when collaborating with a corporation.

Independence is a crucial matter here. First of all, NGOs must remain independent from the corporation they are working with (something that might be difficult, though not impossible, if the corporation is paying something to the NGO). This independence should be reflected on the capacity of criticizing the corporation that the NGO must maintain. If not, the NGO will loose reputation.

But also, NGOs must keep independent from donors. NGOs should just follow their own mandate. To secure this, there should be wide publicity on the incomes of NGOs.

A second side of the question is the need of publicity of the engagement and the results. If a NGO and a corporation agree to work together, they must do it publicly, disclosing every aspect of their relationship. If not, that seems more like a consultancy work than a cooperative NGO – Corporation partnership.

As a logical consequence to what I’ve said, results must be public too. Even if there are negative results. Otherwise, NGOs start playing a different role of what they are: they become private consulting firms. 

There are some impacts assessments that partially reach the standards I have outlined here. One is the following. It has some critics, some warnings, and it is totally public.


Ignacio, Kristin,

I find this really interesting that NGO's and Corporations could potentially collaborate together.  Do you think there is a specific sector that collaboration would be better (such as economic, health, education, etc) than having them each working individually?


Yan Yan Teague

Response to Yan Yan

Dear Yan Yan, 

What I mean is solving the specific alleged violation through the work together. In that sense, the collaboration can be in any of the mentioned issues, because the violation might be of an economic right, or the right to health, or to education. 

Hope that is useful, 


Is collaboration more effective in a particular sector?

Hi Yan Yan and Ignacio - I agree that collaboration can be effectively used in many sectors and on many human rights issues. The example that I mentioned above about the NGOs developing corporate training was focused on mining companies - but one can imagine this tactic being used in many other sectors of business. I look forward to hearing from Naomi, one of the dialogue participants, about her experience in Papua New Guinea working with oil companies.  These companies impact such a wide range of human rights that the kinds of human rights NGOs that could potentially be involved in a collaboration with the company is many!

It will be great to learn about other ways that NGOs are collaborating with corporations!

Collaboration on Workers Rights

Just recently, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association, a monitoring group, and had asked that they monitor working conditions in plants manufacturing their products such as iPhones, iPads, and more. The association reported at least 43 violations of Chinese laws and regulations, as well as various breaches to codes of conduct at Foxconn – a large manufacturing plant in China where many Apple products are made.

This one example shows how vitally important and valuable it is for corporations to collaborate with NGO’s in order to ensure that workers’ human rights are being upheld. What’s more, it is equally as important for such corporations to partner with NGO’s who seek to uphold individuals’ human rights early, before any such human rights violations are made. 

The Fair Labor Association, aside from working on issues regarding fair labor issues, are also currently working to ensure fair compensation and worker safety, pay-back for owed overtime wages, upholding freedom of association for workers, and more. Check out their “Impact” tab on their website at for more information on their work!

Sarah Motevalli, Intern at New Tactics in Human Rights


Corps take pride in memberships to human rights associations

Thanks for sharing this, Sarah!  The Fair Labor Association is a great example of the power of being part of a group of respected corporations.  There are a number of these kinds of associations, developed by NGOs, to encourage corporations to uphold certain human rights standards.  Their reward for doing so is membership to the association.  Membership to the association leads to respect from the human rights community.  It gives corporations bragging rights - "Not only do we make great shoes - but we treat our workers right - so buy our products!"

Here are a few other examples of NGOs, associations and coalitions that offer these kinds of memberships for corporations:

  • Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - "By becoming a member of RSPO, you can contribute constructively to RSPO's efforts to promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil."  Membership is made up of Oil Palm Growers, Palm Oil Processors and/or Traders, Consumer Goods Manufacturers, Retailers, Banks and Investors, Environmental/Nature Conservation NGOs, and Social/Developmental NGOs.
  • The Ethical Trading Initiative is a ground-breaking alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. We work in partnership to improve the working lives of poor and vulnerable people across the globe who make or grow consumer goods - everything from tea to T-shirts, from flowers to footballs.  ETI members include global companies with thousands of suppliers, international trade union bodies, specialised labour rights organisations and development charities.
  • The Extraive Industries Transparency Initiative is another great example of a coalition of corporations, governments, NGOs, etc.  Companies can become "EITI Company Supporters" by agreeing to a assess their impact and share information on their work to EITI.  

I'm sure there are many more coalitions like this in which NGOs work directly with corporations.  It would be great to learn about those examples and learn more about the impact of these efforts.  Please share your own experiences and ideas!

Response to Sarah

Thanks for this information! I did not know that Apple had joined the Fair Labor Assocation. I know there have been recent criticsms towards the company about the labor practices that were happening in the factories where their products where made. I have a quick question- do you think the current issues that surround the issue of determining fair trade practices, wages and monitoring factories has been a significance? And how does the fair trade movement play a role in towards certain Corporations potentially becoming fair trade?


Yan Yan Teague

Fair Trade Movement

Thank you Kristin and Yan Yan!

The World Fair Trade Organization has a great list of resources and links to information regarding the issue of fair trade and many other interrelated issues surrounding it. Particularly, there is more information on “Corporate Social Responsibility – Human and Labour Rights” as a link on the site as well.

There has been some recent controversy in the US surrounding the topic of Fair Trade and other corresponding issues such as determining fair trade practices as was noted in an article by the New York Times in November. Fair Trade USA, “the movements leading advocate in the US” had recently announced that it would not only end ties with the main international fair trade group, but that it would “make far-reaching changes in the sorts of products that gets its seal of approval.” Further, “the group is also proposing to place its seal on products with as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients, compared with a minimum of 20 percent required in other countries.” This decision has ignited concern and disapproval among those in the fair trade movement as well as partners of Fair Trade USA, as it would open a wide door of access to corporations who may not wholly adhere to fair trade practices (as well as serve to financially benefit them) while narrowing the door for the more poor, rural farmers and communities who need this wide door of access far more.

There is clearly a growing trend where corporations are recognizing the popularity the fair trade movement holds and the increasing preference of consumers to buy fair trade. This could mean that more corporations will increasingly move towards partnering with Fair Trade organizations, but this does not necessarily mean that they will wholly develop fair trade practices. If corporations who use as little as 10% fair trade ingredients will now attain a stamp of approval, what then does this mean for the many consumers trying to decipher what products are truly fair trade products and those which are not? The positive implications of this for corporations are many, so too are the negative implications for various rural farmers and communities.  

It is vitally important for fair trade organizations such as Fair Trade USA to maintain their integrity and principles when providing their seal of approval to certain corporations, and this includes their upholding of support to the local and rural farmers which need the access to major markets the most.  


Sarah Motevalli, New Tactics Intern

Publicity and Media

Hello Ignacio, you said:

"But also, NGOs must keep independent from donors. NGOs should just follow their own mandate. To secure this, there should be wide publicity on the incomes of NGOs.

A second side of the question is the need of publicity of the engagement and the results. If a NGO and a corporation agree to work together, they must do it publicly, disclosing every aspect of their relationship. If not, that seems more like a consultancy work than a cooperative NGO – Corporation partnership.

As a logical consequence to what I’ve said, results must be public too. Even if there are negative results. Otherwise, NGOs start playing a different role of what they are: they become private consulting firms."

I am curious to know, how does the media affect collaboration between an NGO and a corporation?


In my opinion, media is extremely important in this strategy: as media is the watchdog of democracy, keeping an eye to the government, media has also to keep an eye to the compromises assumed by corporations. So, in a few words, media has the huge task of helping the fulfilling of the agreements.

Citizen's Role In Media


Thank you for your participation in the dialogue. In this and the other discussion threads you have said a lot of very important ideas as well as providing some good examples.

As a student in the peace and justice movement I agree fully with you on the roll of media as a tool when working with corporations. Unfortunately when I look at the interactions between corporations and the media I see very little work toward accountability the utilization of media as a force for justice. While occasionally the media may report on either the good or bad actions of a corporation it is often done in a superfluous way which is about shock value, reinforcing stereotypes, or increasing buy rates and ratings. In my opinion as media becomes more centralized and often times even more biased in favor of corporations, the natural quality the media has of being able to be force for accountability is seen less frequency.

My two questions for you relate to the two potential solutions to this issue. First, how can a citizen or academic engage with the media to be a tool for justice and improving human rights, and second, what roll does citizen media play in holding corporations accountable and developing positive connections between people and businesses.



CarrotMob create interesting events to engage media & supporters

The CarrotMob example that I share below is a great example of using media as a tool to create more impact.  Local CarrotMob groups use local media to recruit and engage supporters - and they do a great job of it!  They dress us like Carrots and have all kinds of crazy meda-grabbing activities!  How do other NGOs use media to engage supporters in their efforts to work with corporations?

Answer to Anthony


I am glad you found my comments useful, and I will try to answer your questions. But before that, let me say something about a subject you raised: media quality. In my opinion, there is a huge need of regulating media companies. I fully believe in freedom of speech, but the phenomenom regulated two centuries ago with the constitutional clauses protecting that freedom is no longer present anymore. Now we are facing huge corporations, that are involved in the media business, and, very often, in other kind of business, related or not. For example: Carlos Slim has a TV broadcaster in México. And also a cell phone provider. And also shares in the New York Times. Now, how do you think his media companies will cover a story regarding some of his other companies? There are huge problems of incompatible interests.

Focusing in your questions, I will do my best:

1) Citizen or academic engage with the media can be a tool for justice if it remains loyal to its own independance. They have to be faithful to what they are, and to what they think is correct.

2) Citizen media plays a huge part in holding corporations accountable. In my opinion, Internet is changing what we thought democracy's possibilities were. And, in that way, it is changing (and it will change) what we think citizen media can be. Notwithstanding that, quality of citizen media has to improve, but I think it is going in the right way.

Hope you find my thoughts useful.


Influencing businesses through incentives (or "carrots")

Hi everyone!  I wanted to share another interesting tactic that organizations are using to work with corporations to improve human rights. 

CarrotMob is an NGO (and online platform) that helps to coordinate and promote campaigns that reward businesses for socially responsible activities (like having a good environmental policy).  On their website, they explain what they are trying to do:

In a Carrotmob campaign, a group of people offers to spend their money to support a business, and in return the business agrees to take an action that the people care about. We are called Carrotmob because we use the "carrot" instead of the "stick." Traditionally, people who wanted to influence businesses would threaten or attack them. We believe people can have more influence on businesses by giving them a positive incentive to change: our money.

People want to "vote with their money" to advance their values and improve the world. We're building a website to make voting with your money easier, more effective, and more fun!

Here's an example.  A CarrotMob group in Toronto held a "Mob for Local Food" campaign to encourage a grocery stores to carry more products produced by local producers/farmers.  They set a date for this "buy-cott" and promoted it.  On the day of the "buy-cott" they raised close to $10k and the grocery store agreed to stock food from 15 additional certified local producers.  The group was very happy with the outcome.

Many of the CarrotMob campaigns so far focus on energy-saving policies that companies are encouraged to implement (like installing better lighting).  It's not exactly impacting human rights directly...but it's possible to apply this tactic to other policies that impact human rights.  Any ideas?

They say, "In a boycott, everyone loses. In a Carrotmob, everyone wins."  Do you think this is true?  Are you familiar with similar tactics that reward businesses for good behavior?  Are these tactics effective?

Is There Incentive?

Hi Kristin!

While I believe I understand the general idea and motive behind the members of an organization like CarrotMob, is there any incentive for corporations to change their policies with organizations like CarrotMob in place? Of course it is always nice to know that your policies as a corporation are praised, do you think that the CarrotMob holds enough influence that a corporation would change their polices for the better to receive that recognition? I would agree that in a CarrotMob, it seems that everyone wins. Boycotts seem like more of a confrontational approach to try to settle a conflict, and while history shows that they can be effective, there's little room left to cultivate a positive relationship after the boycott is finished. 


Nicole Lovold

Is it possible to implement boycotts and provide incentives?

Great questions, Nicole!  I'm not sure how much impact the CarrotMob can have on the human rights impact of corporations...but it looks like they have had an impact on small businesses on their local environmental impact.  It's a good start and only time will tell if they are able to scale it. 

Perhaps a combination of boycotts and incentives?  Are there examples of this kind of carrot-and-stick approach? 

holding seminars on the relevance of integrating human rights

In thinking about the questions

  • How do you get the attention of corporations?  How do we get them to react?
  • How do we build a culture in which corporations work with organizations as partners?

I came across this article about a seminar on "Doing Business Sustainably: Human Rights Compliance" in Jakarta in 2010:

With the increasing awareness of business communities across the globe of the relevance of integrating Human Rights Compliance into their operations, Mazars initiated and sponsored a seminar on Human Rights Compliance on 20 October 2010 in Jakarta.The seminar that was moderated by James Kallman, President Director of Mazars in Indonesia aims to help business leaders to understand better the importance and contexts of human rights in the business world and to move in the right direction. Not less than 75 participants from corporations, government institutions, NGOs, State-owned enterprises and media participated in the seminar. The seminar concluded that Human Rights Compliance is a powerful strategy for corporations to conduct their business in a sustainable manner or legitimize their operations. The event itself provided strong visibility for Mazars as among the first organisations that is taking the lead in human rights compliance.

How beneficial are these events? Questions and conclusions put forward, are they addressed and for how long?

HI Ana, Great question!  At

HI Ana,

Great question!  At the Canadian Human Rights Commission, we are trying to do the same using our Human Rights Maturity Model - HRMM (see other postings for more info).  The objective is to have employers voluntarily comply with human rights and employment equity principles and regulations.  The premise is obviously debatable, and much of the debate centers around the impact that vaoluntary compliance can have in a workplace and the time it takes to achieve a demonstrable impact.  When we promote the HRMM, we are clear with employers that we are talking about a culture change over a period of years.  The intent is to make the change self-sustaining, regardless of leadership changes.


Working with corporations in an integrated fashion


At the Canadian Human Rights Commission, we have developed a model to help employers improve their human rights competencies toward establishing a self-sustaining human rights culture.  The Human Rights Maturity Model (HRMM) was launched online February 15, 2012, and has already garnered 23 registered employers, from the private and public sector.  We believe that by providing such comprehensive tools, organizations that already understand the business case for human rights, respect in the workplace and diversity, will also realize that it can be done quite easily.

The HRMM help organizations prioritize what should be accomplished first to set the foundation for human rights successes later on.  It is based on the following five elements:

  • Leadership and Accountability
  • Communication and Consultation
  • Alignment of Policies and Processes
  • Capacity Building and Resources
  • Performance Evaluation and Continous Improvement

Although created specfically for the federal jurisdiction here in Canada, it has also piqued interest in organizations that are provincially regulated.  We also believe that the HRMM can have applications internationally.

We have received good feedback to date for the HRMM site.  The link is:

And, we welcome any comments and/or suggestions for improvement.

How can NGOs collaborate w/ GOs to develop tools for corps?

Thank you so much, Piero, for sharing this example of how a government can create a tool for corporations to integrate human rights compliance into all aspects of their operations!  This is a great resource.

I would be very curious to learn whether NGOs in Canada were also involved in developing this tool.  If so, how were they involved?  Did you engage human rights organizations in the process of developing this resource?  Will NGOs be involved in long-term evaluation and monitoring?

If they were not involved, could you imagine a way in which they could be involved?

The HRMM and NGOs - Going Forward

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Kristin.  NGOs were involved, although indirectly.  We informed various organizations about the HRMM and welcomed comments, suggestions, etc.  Going forward, we intend to connect with NGOs to a greater degree, especially as we encourage employers to do the same when they have reached a more mature level of human rights competency (namely, Level 4).  As well, as we continue to enhance the resource, we will be encouraging as much input and feedback from all of our stakeholders to make it as relevant, flesible and practical for employers.

I hope I've answered your question.

In turn, I would be grateful if any of your contributors has ideas of how we can prmote/market the tool to various human rights stakeholders, whether domestically or internationally.  I'm sure many of the participants in this dialogue have much experience in this area.


The Corporate Responsibility Coalition

Good afternoon all,

My name is Josh Zahrbock, and I am part of the Conflict Resolution class participating in this dialogue.  The research I have been working on has focused on how unsustainable environmental practices and human rights issues often go hand in hand.  In particular, I have been focusing on how the industrial agricultural system of the United States plays into both environmental devastations and human rights violations.  While I was working on my research paper for my Conflict Resolution class, I came across an awesome non-profit by the name of The Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE) working in the UK.   

“The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition strives to improve UK companies’ impacts on people and the environment. The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition has over 130 members including representatives from ethical businesses, womens’ groups, religious groups, unions, academics and environment, development and human rights groups. The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition’s work is lead by a steering group of Amnesty International UK, Action Aid, Friends of the Earth, TraidCraft, War on Want and WWF (GB). The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition’s members believe that in order to improve how UK companies behave, there is a need for:

  1. greater transparency of business operations
  2. better accountability of businesses for their impacts on people and the environment
  3. improved access to justice for victims of harmful corporate conduct” (

CORE has, and continues to do great work in trying to hold corporations accountable for mal practices by working with corporations, decision makers, and civil society groups.

“The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition was instrumental in securing changes to the Companies Act, helping to improve the impacts of UK companies on people and the environment. As a result:

I hope this is of some value to the dialogue.


Josh Zahrbock


How can coalitions work with corporations?

Thanks for sharing info on this great NGO, Josh!  This is a great example of how organizations can work with other NGOs and with the legal system to hold corporations accountable for their human rights violations. I see this tactic as a way to change the environment (legal environment and advocacy pressure) in which these corporations work in order to prevent abuse and improve impact.  This is certainly a worthwhile and effective tactic.

I would like to challenge you to think about how this coalition could collaborate with corporations to improve human rights.  Or perhaps you do see this coalition as a partner to corporations.  If so - how are they working with corporations?  It would be great to learn more about examples in which organizations work with corporations (like a partner-relatonship) as opposed to using more confrontational tactics such as holding them accountable in the courtroom. Thanks for your thoughts, Josh!

Restorative Justice

Hello Everyone! 

I’ve been researching restorative justice and have come to learn it is an extremely powerful and effective practice that could be especially useful in collaborating with corporations to improve human rights. Restorative justice uses a circle to promote discussion to handle challenging situations between people, such as neighborhood disputes or in this case a dispute between corporations and communities. During the circle, everyone that is involved sits in a circle and a talking piece is passed around so everyone’s voice is heard. This process hopefully leads to understanding and an agreement between the groups. I think that having an open conversation between the corporation and the community would idealistically encourage the corporation to act more justly in its practices because it would connect them to the people they are affecting in the community.    


In light of the current discussion, I was wondering if anyone has examples of restorative justice being used to collaborate and work with corporations?

Or, if you think restorative justice has the power to work with corporations in order to stop human rights violations or prevent them from happening? How could this be implemented in the real world?     

youth engagement when working with corporations

Hey everyone!

It has been really interesting to hear all of your thoughts and perspectives on this issue, thanks for sharing! I'm replying to Megan's post mainly because my questions somewhat piggy back off of what she is asking. I have been working with/studying youth development and engagement, and while at first I was hesitant on how my studies would have a role in this dialogue, after reading this and other discussion threads, some questions did come to mind. 

As we know, corporations have a major effect on the communities that they occupy. That being said, in conjunction with the theme of restorative justice, what are ways we can utilize the young people in these communities to help corporations and organizations work together? If we think of restorative justice as a method to repair the harm a corporation has done to a community, the youth of the community shouldn't be forgotten, as their role is just as important as their adult counterparts. 

Another idea I have been contemplating is how we can better engage young people in this movement. As I have been browsing this website, and from personal experience, it is certain they can have enormous influence and strong voices when they are passionate about an issue. As we move forward and developing new tactics for addressing this issue, it might be interesting to think about the role and voice youth could have in this movement. Any thoughts on this?


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