This article summarises the key points from a workshop on 15 November 2022 where private markets industry participants discussed how to track and communicate their investees’ as well as their own performance in relation to human rights
Organisations attending the workshop:
- Shift Project – Bob Dannhauser (facilitator)
- Abris Capital Partners
- Blue Wolf Capital Partners
- Helios Investment Partners
- Institute for Human Rights and Business
- Infrared Capital Partners
- Southbridge Investments
- Stepstone Group
This workshop, held under the Chatham House Rule, is the third of a four-part series bringing together private markets investors to discuss how to implement elements of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
- Workshop 1: Identifying and assessing negative human rights outcomes (June 2022)
- Workshop 2: Preventing and mitigating negative human rights outcomes (September 2022)
- Workshop 3: Tracking and communicating performance on human rights (November 2022)
- Workshop 4: Providing or enabling access to remedy (early 2023)
These workshops will also lead to new guidance in 2023 for private market investors on implementing the UNGPs.
Discussion findings are grouped into four main areas, as follows:
1. The importance of tracking and communicating human rights performance
Participants discussed how tracking and communicating performance on human rights through a mix of meaningful qualitative and quantitative indicators serves several purposes, such as:
- Helping investors to identify the most effective strategies and interventions for addressing human rights issues in their own and their investees’ business operations, as well as identify the risks associated with different strategies. As a result, investors said they were better able to proactively navigate these risks rather than merely react to them as they arose.
- Enabling investors and their investees to address and report on social risks, including human rights, by connecting their activities with real human rights outcomes rather than simply implementing relevant processes and policies.
- Assisting investors to make a clearer connection between social and financial performance, although it was noted that developing specific metrics to this end remains a significant challenge.
Finally, participants said that the regulatory environment in certain jurisdictions – for example, the EU implementing deeper sustainability disclosure requirements – will reinforce investors’ and investees’ need to track and communicate human rights performance on a regular basis.
“[Tracking] gives us a chance to address social risks, not just in terms of […] policies and processes, but actually connecting outcomes that have effects on people.”
2. Assessing and engaging investees on human rights performance
Participants were asked how they evaluate their investees’ performance on human rights, and how they use their influence and leverage to encourage the development of meaningful metrics at GPs and portfolio companies. Both pre- and post-investment considerations were discussed, highlighting the importance of both the initial due diligence process and engagement with management post-investment.
Participants discussed how the investee’s context informs pre-investment due diligence and the types of human rights risks investees should be expected to track. Location, industry sector, underlying business models, the degree to which a supply chain extends beyond a home market, and local governments’ track records on human rights were highlighted as key factors.
Evaluating investees’ track records on how they have conducted due diligence and addressed human rights issues historically can also provide good insight into the types of issues and metrics to track. For example, LPs can consider whether GPs’ responses to past or ongoing human rights issues (whether internal or at portfolio companies) merit closer monitoring, while GPs’ experience of dealing with human rights issues at individual investee companies can help them assess and monitor their portfolio / assets more widely.
Participants discussed different approaches to assessing portfolio companies’ performance on human rights risks during the holding period. For example, one GP asks portfolio companies on quarterly ESG calls about their awareness of any human rights-related incidents across the supply chain, and conducts an annual questionnaire to ensure the investee is carrying out consistent and comprehensive human rights risk assessments and that risks are being addressed. Questions include whether any suppliers are located in countries with heightened risk of human rights abuses, and whether their management policies and procedures allow them to integrate human rights considerations throughout the supply chain.
Another participant shared their experience in backing a small management team. The GP raised certain human rights-related questions with the team pre-investment – for example, about their supplier procurement processes – to make the investee aware of their requirements rather than expecting detailed answers at that early stage. Post investment, the GP worked with the team to ensure their requirements were embedded in the business and that someone at the company would be responsible for these issues.
More generally, the discussion highlighted that an important part of the dialogue between investors and investees post-investment is around educating and equipping the investee with tools and resources to better manage and track human rights risks. For example, LPs and GPs can share their experience with investees on navigating specific business models, or operating in certain jurisdictions or sectors.
Finally, it was noted that LPs can send a powerful signal by escalating serious cases with their GPs: this demonstrates the LP’s interest in human rights issues even where it lacks the means to intervene directly. Where multiple LPs identify a specific case or issue, it can even be raised collectively, for example at a Limited Partner Advisory Committee.
“You won’t get all the answers you want as part of the pre-investment process; there is a process of developing the management team’s understanding of our requirements, and working with them post investment.”
3. Challenges to identifying meaningful metrics
Several persistent challenges were highlighted regarding how to identify the most meaningful metrics to track human rights performance:
- In comparison to certain climate-related metrics, such as carbon emissions, it can be difficult to quantify many human rights-related issues.
- The range of possible business impacts on people makes it challenging to use one metric or a common set of metrics to evaluate overall performance or to understand where investors may have an impact.
- Certain business activities – such as downsizing – may seem inherently negative even if conducted in a responsible manner; as such, developing metrics and communicating these activities may prove challenging.
- It is difficult to measure ‘performance’ as positive in certain cases (e.g., a reduction in the number of instances of forced child labour) when the end situation is still negative overall (e.g., one instance of forced labour is still too many).
In the face of these challenges, participants discussed how the UNGPs require businesses (including investors) to prioritise human rights issues based on their salience – risks that pose the greatest severity of negative impact to people.1 With this mind, they noted that it is better to identify a targeted set of meaningful metrics to track, rather than trying to track all potential human rights impacts at any given time.
“It’s fairly hard to have the one indicator or common set of indicators to cover all the issues. What we try to assess is the process and whether the investee is well-positioned to keep improving.”
4. Approaches to developing meaningful metrics
A useful starting point for many participants is to monitor investees’ processes to address human rights issues overall (this applies to LPs monitoring GPs, and GPs assessing their portfolio companies or assets). These processes include:
- investees’ overall processes for - and track record of - assessing and managing human rights risks and how these align with the UNGPs;
- the type and breadth of questions included in due diligence questionnaires;
- the investee’s assessment of whether their efforts to address human rights risks have been successful;
- the investee’s ambition to improve these processes and outcomes; and
- how GPs leverage regulatory frameworks to enforce quantitative disclosures from their portfolio companies and assets.
“[Is the investee making an up-front assessment] regarding the broadest possible range of risks, whether that be human rights indicators, or governance indicators, or environmental regulation?”
Investors can then seek to identify metrics that address specific issues. Participants noted that many human rights metrics already exist, such as those related to diversity or health and safety. However, while these metrics may be easier to track or may be driven by regulatory requirements, they may not always capture the right type of information required to assess the most salient human rights issues in certain contexts. The participants also highlighted that it is important to connect any assessment of processes with an understanding of the actual and potential impacts on people.
Workshop attendees discussed what characteristics more meaningful metrics can entail. In order to be meaningful, metrics should be:
- outcome-oriented, focusing on the positive and / or negative outcomes for people, and reflect targeted actions taken by investees;
- evidence-based, often using quantitative and qualitative information to assess what actions have been effective and how particular outcomes can be attributed to those actions; and
- informed by stakeholders, to ensure that any actions taken to address human rights take into account local considerations.
Once investors decide on their desired outcomes, they can identify the investee practices and behaviours that would support those outcomes.
“For a given set of outcomes, what are the activities you might want to establish? For example, setting contractual expectations with your suppliers. What then are the outputs we can expect as a result? If we’re able to develop those outputs, what behaviours do we hope to influence that are linked to outcomes for people? And finally, what impact will the behaviours have on affected people?”
1 A negative human rights impact is severe by virtue of one or more of the following characteristics: its scale, scope or irremediability (UNGP Reporting Framework Glossary)