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The Friday Blog | Tackling inequality: Arcadis’ mission to put human rights at the core of business

Nana Berchie

Global Diversity, Belonging & Human Rights People Director

When I ask you to consider Human Rights issues, your first thoughts will probably lead you to the Rohingya populations in Myanmar, or to the vast fast-fashion sweatshop industry.

You might land with any of the thousands of communities displaced from their homes through violence, with those being trafficked and those imprisoned within forced labor. It might be easy for us to disassociate ourselves as individuals from those lives that can seem so far removed from our daily influence. But the reality is that as employees and leaders of global organizations a significant responsibility to respect human rights sits firmly with us.

Broadening how we define Human Rights may help in our ability to better understand and visualize our impact. In their simplest form, they are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They are mine, just as they are yours. They are rights to dignity and respect, to body-autonomy, to not be subjected to forced labor, to freedom of assembly, to safety - both physically and psychologically.

Each of these also applies within professional environments – we all have the right to form and join trade unions, to express our opinion and to be part of an inclusive and equitable workplace. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the work that we do, and the outputs that we deliver, are both sustainable and safe.

A collective responsibility

The business sector has a critical role to play in respecting human rights and tackling inequality. We need to provide and foster responsible environments for both our people and the clients and societies that we serve. This means supporting the working conditions of those that work with us or via our value chain.

It means ensuring equitable working practices and driving accountability. It means recognizing that human rights and sustainability are inextricably linked and designing solutions that protect vulnerable communities as well as the environment. It means reflecting these commitments across our value chains; in how we align with clients, and in the ways that we procure our suppliers.

When we fail to respect human rights, deliver unsafe products and services, or contribute to environmental pollution, we’re undermining human dignity and reinforcing existing inequalities. These inequalities not only fuel social and political unrest but thwart our ability to tackle major global challenges as a collective unit.

The Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI), a coalition assembled by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, stresses the fact that businesses have a responsibility to tackle the growing inequality we face today.

Businesses supply the lion’s share of jobs essential for survival. And so, while governments play a role in providing public services, regulating markets and setting policies to address inequality, a huge onus also falls on the business sector to play its part. Demonstrating a commitment to respecting and upholding human rights, alongside maintaining strong human rights due diligence processes, are essential actions that all businesses can take to tackle inequality.

The BCTI’s report, “Tackling inequality: The need and opportunity for business action”, explains that workplace practices, supply chain pressures and marketing stereotypes have created an uneven playing field that exacerbates the systemic risk that is inequality — paying low wages, discouraging worker unions, fueling discrimination through advertising and data use, and increasing competition that result in reduced wages and poor working conditions for suppliers.

Inequality, as the BCTI report points out, is not a fact of nature but a product of our systems and practices — because of this, it’s also something we can change. Through proactive and continuous corporate efforts, and by working together with the government sector, businesses can stop chasing issues and instead become part of a systemic solution to inequality.

How Arcadis is responding to the BCTI’s call to action

At Arcadis, we’re embracing our contribution to sustainable development and we’re driven by our passion for improving quality of life for all. Fundamental to this is our commitment to prevent, identify, mitigate and remediate adverse human rights impacts caused by, contributed or linked to our business activities. As such, we have made it a core part of our 2020 ‘Maximizing Impact’ strategy, which rests on two pillars — taking care of people and taking care of our planet.

We understand that positive impacts to people flow directly from respecting human rights and see this as key to unlocking a sustainable present and future, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, and tackling significant societal challenges like discrimination and inequality.

A testament to our strong commitment to human rights is our human rights and labor policy that is fully aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Using this as our anchor, we are continuously collaborating with Arcadians and our clients and suppliers to improve our human rights performance.

To apply the BCTI report’s recommendations, we are implementing a human rights due diligence process to prevent, mitigate and remediate any negative human rights impacts caused by, contributing to or linked to our business activities.

This applies to our various workstreams, including our

work involving clients and projects as well as our procurement systems. These actions follow a roadmap underpinned by 79 actions across 14 different focus areas focused on integrating and embedding human rights in the business. They’re laid out in depth in our 2023 Arcadis Annual Integrated Report here.

Level the playing field, generate prosperity for all

Positive impacts on people stem directly from respecting human rights. It’s the pivotal step in creating a sustainable present and future. With a level the playing field, we maximize our ability to contain crises together, build social trust and stability, and generate long-term prosperity for all.

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