What can behavioral science teach us about advancing behaviors that enable respect for human rights?

Behavioral science combines economics, social psychology, judgment, decision-making and neuroscience to better understand what triggers, shapes or impedes specific behavior. Over the years, it has helped revolutionize approaches to public policy in healthcare, education, crime reduction, energy efficiency, taxation, savings, political participation and more. The private sector has also used behavioral insights for decades to help influence economic behavior, particularly in marketing and sales. Yet, in the business and human rights space, the powerful tools of behavioral science have remained underutilized.

Thinking of business and human rights in behavioral terms

The business and human rights field has paid a lot of attention to the policies and processes that companies should have in place to achieve respect for human rights. Yet, policies and processes are only a means to the end of improved outcomes. They set out what an organization is supposed to do. But companies need to evaluate what people actually do if they are to achieve positive outcomes.

Some companies already employ behavioral scientists to meet corporate objectives, so extending these approaches to business and human rights issues would seem logical. The first step is to identify some of the critical behaviors within companies when it comes to respecting people’s rights. Only then can behavioral science suggest whether and how the desired behaviors could be promoted (or undesired ones discouraged), and how to evaluate whether this happens.

What we are doing in this area of work

In 2019, we held an expert consultation with human rights practitioners within companies and behavioral science experts to explore the intersection between these disciplines. Since then, we’ve worked to identify some distinct challenges that may benefit from behavioral science interventions.

Latest Resources

Research and Outputs on Behavior change
2 Resources
July 2019 | Expert Roundtable

Expert Roundtable on Business, Human Rights and Behavioral Science: A Summary Report

This document summarizes our expert roundtable on April 24, 2019, where we explored the ways that behavioral science informs the public sector, and presented this research in an attempt to find ways in which these practices could be used to promote business respect for human rights.

July 2019 | Concept Note

Business and Human Rights Meets Behavioral Science: A Background Note

This pre-read for our April 26th consultation in London provides a brief overview of current thinking in behavioral science, and ways we might apply that thinking in a business and human rights context to improve outcomes for people.

About the Valuing Respect Project