What is it that defines your company’s culture?

Think about the moment when a new employee joins a company. She comes in on her first day and is immediately handed a handbook with dozens of pages describing the company culture and its policies. There’s probably hours upon hours of work that have gone into discussing, writing and fine-tuning what each of those documents says. Yet, if we were to come back to that same employee a few months later and ask to describe what the company culture is like, they’d probably describe somewhat of a different reality.

When it comes to respecting human rights, it is no different. A lot of attention is often given to the policies and processes that companies need to have in place. Yet policies and processes are only part of the picture. They set out what people in an organization are supposed to do. But to evaluate respect for human rights, we need to look at what actually happens; that is, the organizational culture. There, senior leaders have a crucial role to play.

“We’ve been looking into the governance arrangements and processes that senior leaders put in place, but equally at how those senior leaders act. Because, what they put in place helps shape practice, but the way they behave inspires cultural transformations.”


Leadership and governance indicators

We delved into the practices and behaviors that help foster business respect for human rights, and drafted a set of indicators that are grounded in four features of corporate culture:

  • The Authenticity of Commitment: the organization acts in a manner consistent with its publicly asserted commitment, including when faced with inevitable tensions between respect for human rights and other business goals.
  • Responsibility and accountability: respect for human rights is embraced as the responsibility of people in every part of the business, and key staff are empowered and motivated to embed respect for human rights across the company.
  • Respect and empathy: everyone in the organization is motivated to know and care about whether and how it might be involved with harm to the human rights of people, including to remote individuals and communities.
  • Organizational Learning: the organization seeks out and embraces new insights about human rights risks and makes an effort to learn from its mistakes as well as successes.

The indicators look first at formal governance arrangements and processes that support these features; then at key behaviors of senior leaders that exemplify and reinforce the features; and finally at the perspectives and behaviors that should be observable in the workforce where the right governance and leadership is in place. 

The indicators are intended as a menu from which organizations can draw as appropriate. Yet they will be most robust when used in careful combinations. We are developing some supporting materials to assist in their application.

We aim to continue to refine these indicators, and to work with partners to pilot different use cases for the indicators and further refine them based on what we learn.

You are welcome to browse through the working documents and initial outputs below to learn more about where we are in the process.

Latest Resources

Research and Outputs on Leadership, Governance, & Culture
6 Resources
September 2020 | Concept Note

Applying Leadership and Governance Indicators of Rights-Respecting Culture

This note sets out Shift’s key take-aways from a series of single-stakeholder consultations we organized between July and August 2020, as part of the Valuing Respect Project. The consultations focused on opportunities and challenges for boards, company practitioners, business associations, banks, investors, governments and Civil Society Organizations to use the Valuing Respect Leadership and Governance […]

June 2020 | Tool

Leadership & Governance Indicators of a Rights-Respecting Culture (Beta)

ABOUT THE UPDATED BETA VERSION __ We’ve made important progress since we first published a beta version of our Leadership & Governance Indicators, in December 2019. We have now focused all of the governance indicators on the role of boards or equivalent senior governing bodies. We’ve also refined the indicators to a more concise list […]

December 2019 | Tool

Leadership & Governance Indicators of a Rights-Respecting Culture (BETA)

The primary intended users of this resource are: Business leaders seeking to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their company leadership, governance and culture with regards to respect for human rights; Investors and civil society organizations seeking to strengthen their analysis, strategies and engagement with companies regarding progress towards respect for human rights. 

March 2019 | Concept Note

Rights-Respecting Corporate Culture: Cultural Norms & Values that Underpin Business Respect for Human Rights

This piece examines corporate culture, identifying the key elements that make a rights-respecting culture successful.

September 2018 | Thought Leadership

Viewing the Valuing Respect Project through the Lagging v. Leading Indicator Lens

In this piece, Shift’s Senior Advisor John Sherman discusses the usefulness of lagging versus leading indicators in how we evaluate business respect for human rights, and what the future of these indicators might look like through the lens of Valuing Respect’s mission.

About the Valuing Respect Project