What is “impact assessment” and how can organizations use it?

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What is “impact assessment” and how can organizations use it?

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

  • When should a human rights impact assessment be done?  For what sort of business project or operation?  By whom?
  • Which of the existing tools for assessing human rights impact are effective?
  • What are examples of gaps in past human rights impact assessments identified by NGOs and local communities?  Have impact assessments been carried out that failed to identify potential human rights abuses that later materialized?
  • What are examples of effective impact assessments, and why did they work?
  • What do these examples show about how better to do impact assessments (or implement what they show)?  Do they tell us anything about the limits of human rights impact assessments generally? 
  • What should the role of NGOs/civil society be?  Should they always be involved in company-led impact assessments?  Do we need more tools to enable them to carry out human rights impact assessments independently?

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

Assessment tool

Between 1995 and 1997, the Danish national media uncovered a number of high-profile human rights violations by Danish companies, some of which were large and recognized organizations. While the stories had an impact on the public and forced some organizations to evaluate their operations, there were no guidelines on how to assess human rights. In response to this, in 1999, the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Danish Confederation of Industries came together to create this assessment tool that companies could use to evaluate potential violations of human rights in their operations. This assessment tool can help advocacy organizations confront human rights abuses linked to corporate activities and also help corporations assess their own human rights performance.

What has been done in other countries to assess and address human rights abuses by corporations? What have local and international NGOs done in this arena and who is doing the assessment? These are very important questions that will hopefully be discussed in detail over the next few days. I look forward to reading your comments

Creating tools

I think the example brought up by Ana is a very good one. It shows the benefits of creating tools that can be used by both NGOs and Communities as well as corporations. As all of them have agreed to create the tool, they can not argue that the assessment has a specific tendency (pro NGO or pro corporation).


What makes for a real, effective impact assessment in practice?

We welcome discussion of this important and timely topic, with impact assessment being a major component of the due diligence required of companies under the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that the UN Human Rights Council approved last June.  Questions remain about what makes for a real, effective "impact assessment" in practice, with no set of clear standards for when and how companies should effectively and fully apply the Guiding Principles including those on impact assessment.  There is also not yet an independent body that could evaluate whether an impact assessment meets those standards.  One document that does provide some authoritative explanation of the Guiding Principles' due diligence requirements, including to carry out impact assessments, is "The corporate responsibility to respect human rights: An interpretive guide", published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as many participants in this forum already know.  But human rights impact assessments are not just a tool for companies to use.  Rights & Democracy and others have shown how NGOs and community groups can use human rights impact assessment, for example to evaluate whether a project will benefit their community and as an advocacy tool to demonstrate how a company's operations affects their rights.

We look forward to seeing the outcome of this dialogue and to highlighting the results.  Participants may also wish to consider submitting their views on impact assessments to the UN Working Group on business & human rights (our portal on the Working Group here; official site here) since its mandate is primarily about effective application of the Guiding Principles.  Participants here may also wish to participate in/contribute to the annual Forum on Business & Human Rights that the UN Working Group is organising.

Gregory Tzeutschler Regaignon

Research Director & North America Manager

Impact assessment before and after workig with a corporation


Gregory, just knowing that the United Nations has a Working Group on Business and Human Rights is very encouraging! Documenting both positive and negative impact of corporations on communities seems a difficult task, but more likely to occur when facilitated through the documents you mention and supported from international bodies such as the United Nations.

I understand the Guiding Principles are less than a year old and a significant accomplishment. I imagine implementation is even more difficult and substantial work lies ahead. Under the framework of "protect, respect, and remedy", the Guiding Principles would seem to prescribe the first two categories of protect and respect, and assessment of violations - and their remedy - are accomplished through the work of NGOs on the ground.

Are assessments available - or being developed - to measure the outcomes of NGOs working with corporations? Reports of violations are a first step toward "protect, respect, and remedy". Is there a next step toward assessing the remedies that improve the condition of victims of human rights abuses after they have been reported? In other words, how might collaborative work be measured between NGOs and corporations? (Forgive me if this is evident in the Working Group on Business and Human Rights website. I have only begun to read through it). Any stories or examples would be appreciated.

How do you know which kind of assessment tool to use?

I came across a great resource that can help NGOs (or corporations themselves) to determine the best kind of assessment tool to use when working with a corporation: AIM for Human Rights Guide to Human Rights Impact Assessment Tools (2009) - best when viewed in IE.

This guide highlights the following five Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) tools have been developed:

  1. Community HRIA Guide for Foreign Investment projects
  2. Guide for Conflict Sensitive Business Practice: Guidance for Extractive Industries
  3. Guide to Human Rights Impact Assessment and management (draft)
  4. Human Rights Compliance Assessment
  5. Human Rights Risk Tools

This guide also provides information on how to select the apprioriate HRIA tool (page 27).  They highlight the following steps:

  1. For your company to be able to choose between the tools,the first thing to do is to get a basic idea of the context of the situation to be assessed:
  • What is the company’s sphere of influence?
  • What is the sector in which the company operates?
  • What are the activities of the company?
  • Does it concern a new or existing project or company?
  • What is the country of operation?

2. Second is to decide on the exact purpose of conducting the HRIA followed by the formulation of the objectives. In this phase it is  important to be clear about the boundaries of the assessment: Does it concern the corporation as a whole, a specific project or activities in a certain region of operation?

3. The third step is to specify the limitations of the project: What is the maximum timeline, the available budget and the number of people needed to conduct the HRIA? It is advisable to be realistic. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a proper HRIA needs proper investment.

4. The fourth step is to screen HRIA tools making use of the HRIA criteria discussed in the next subsection.

The final step is to select the HRIA tool that fits the specific situation.

What has your process looked like in selecting or developing a human rights impact assessment tool for corporations?  How have you used this tool?

Assessment tools.

Hello Kantin,

I would appreciate having more details about all these tools. I believe that it all depends on the circumstances. Nevertheless, training is needed. I will research the information you provided. thank you.


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