Why a commitment to social justice and human rights is good for business

20 April 2017 | Joanne Beckett, Chief Product Officer, LexisNexis Asia Pacific

Since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) there has been considerable debate about the role of corporations in society. It has become broadly accepted that responsible corporations will be governed with respect for the community, play an important role in helping to drive sustainable development, promote diversity and inclusion, as well as support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights. Changing expectations of the role of the corporation in the 21st century hold that generating profit must not come at a cost to the common good. In fact, a global discussion now taking place is addressing how companies can extend their influence, beyond return for shareholders, to address important  social justice and human rights issues.

There's no doubt that there is a little corporate muscle flexing going on in this area. As the issues of marriage equality, gender and ethnic diversity have demonstrated,  it is now commonplace for company boards to address social justice and human rights. In March this year, several of Australia's Top 20 companies signed a joint letter to Malcolm Turnbull, encouraging him to legalise same-sex ­marriage. And professional services firm PwC often tops the list of most inclusive LGBTI employers. It has recruitment targets to boost the number of women and people from div­erse cultural backgrounds at partner level and has an "inclusion officer" present at performance reviews.

The concern for the greater good in corporate Australia is also reflected in theResponsible Investment Benchmark Report 2016 Australia, which found that as at 31 December 2015, responsible investment constituted $633.2 billion in assets under management (AUM), around half of all assets professionally managed in Australia (47 per cent). According to the report there is a continued trend for environmental, social, governance and ethical factors to be considered seriously and systematically across the full financial sector.

As corporate organisations continue to broaden their social focus, demand for quality resources to support and inform these changes have become necessary. Earlier this year, LexisNexis marked World Day of Social Justice 2017 with the launch of a world-first, complimentary resource – Practical Guidance Social Justice Pacific. The product, which was developed under the banner of the LexisNexis Rule of Law company mission, covers human trafficking in several Asia Pacific jurisdictions as well as Australian federal discrimination and humanitarian immigration law, and demonstrates how to establish and manage a charity. Authors include the Australian Human Rights Commission (Australian federal discrimination law), specialist immigration firm Fragomen, Slave Free Seas (a New Zealand based non-governmental organisation) and Professor Dale Pinto. The resource is sure to become an essential tool for governance professionals charged with overseeing their organisations' social justice and human rights agenda.

The modern corporation is not just a business entity. It is an entity with a social conscience that makes visible efforts to improve the social and economic environments in which it exists. And within the 21st Century mindset, issues such as human rights, social justice and equality before the law are very much front and centre. As corporations continue to embrace this change and build their social capital there is a need for supportive resources that can help to build and refine these overriding governance frameworks. Through a combination of resourcing and the contributions of dedicated professionals, corporations can implement these changes in a way that is profitable in both monetary and social terms for the benefit of the wider communities in which they exist.

The module can be accessed on the Practical Guidance Social Justice Pacific page.

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