Conceptually and discursively, the B-Lab is framing a scenario where a company can be a certified ‘force for good’ without recognising and respecting the human rights of people in their value chain. Doing good begins with mitigating and preventing predatory, inhumane or otherwise harmful business-related conduct. This does not happen through performative goodness or ticking boxes. This requires holistic, human rights-based efforts. Efforts that make the company accountable to affected individuals and communities. Efforts that confront harm and salient risks. And efforts that enable people to protect themselves, their interests, and one another.
Accountability and agency change the game. Responsible business conduct and sustainability are things that happen through people, not to people. Business and human rights prepare companies for stress tests, for unexpected shifts in personnel, politics, technologies, pressures, and circumstances. The B-Lab does not compel such readiness because the B-Lab has yet to make the paradigmatic and programmatic shift to recognise stakeholders as rights-holders and business enterprises as “specialized organs of society…that can have an impact on virtually the entire spectrum of internationally recognized human rights.”
Jay Coen Gilbert offered a thoughtful response to Anand Giridharadas work, which positioned the B-Lab as trapped in a larger elite charade. In the article, Gilbert concedes a number of points, challenges others, and concludes with a list of questions for the B Movement to consider. One question that Gilbert raises is: Does the B Corp model go far enough? The answer from the perspective of business and human rights is a resounding no.
A simple fix
Fortunately, there is a silver lining in the form of a simple fix. There is no need to reinvent the existing B-Impact Assessment. There is a need to add one, stand-alone, mandatory precondition of certification: alignment with the UNGPs. Business and human rights practitioners can readily assess such alignment by analysing qualitative signs of process and progress. This is not a measure of perfection, to respond directly to the B-Lab’s current stance on human rights. It is a simple – not an easy – fix that would require the B-Lab to bring business and human rights practitioners on-board. For two movements that are on the cusp of full-blown division, this is the ultimate win-win.
This article is hard on the B-Lab, yet it is meant as tough love. I, like many business and human rights practitioners, see the transformative potential of the B movement. It also seems that the same kind of companies that seek B-Certification would eagerly champion the BHR agenda if equipped with the necessary awareness and guidance. For companies that push back against the notion of respect for human rights being a precondition of certification, it seems apt to question whether the ‘Benefit’ tag is merited. The goal should be to build a bridge so that the BHR and B-Corp movements are interwoven. Such a bridge is well within reach.Print