6 People Who Make Human Rights Their Everyday Mission
By Patrick Roger
Companies have an obligation to operate ethically and treat workers, customers and the general public fairly, and HP is proud to promote respect for human rights in all of the company’s operations. This year, Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the historic proclamation that established the fundamental freedoms of conscience, speech, religion and others belonging to every citizen of the planet, regardless of the laws of the countries where they live. (You can hear then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting committee, reading from the moving preamble here.)
To celebrate those words and the efforts of the activists and leaders in public office, corporations and private institutions who make the protection of human rights a reality, we salute six of our partners and heroes in the field, whose everyday work on behalf of others improves the lives of workers and their families all over the world.
Caroline Rees, President and co-founder, Shift
Caroline Rees has a calling: To make human rights a part of how business gets done in every corner of the world. It began in 2004 when she was British diplomat stationed at the United Nations in Geneva and a heated debate about the role of corporations in promoting human rights hit the agenda. “Discussions were highly controversial,” says Rees, who chaired the negotiations that led to the appointment of Harvard professor John Ruggie as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. She then joined his team in drafting what became the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights — the landmark 2011 document that established the pillars of current-day corporate responsibility. That same year, Rees founded Shift, a New York City-based non-profit that works with Fortune 500 companies, NGOs, trade unions and the financial sector to make human rights for workers a reality. “Shift is part of the movement to help people work out what the UN Guiding Principles mean in their daily jobs,” she says. That’s when the policy debates and corporate compliance procedures turn into moments of action. “Suddenly this ceases being the next task I have to complete and becomes something that gets me out of bed in the morning,” she says.
Anjali Kochar, Executive Director, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation U.S.
You can still hear the excitement in Anjali Kochar’s voice as she describes taking part in the Global March Against Child Labour two decades ago. Thousands of people from dozens of countries traveled through Africa, Asia, Latin America and the U.S. in 1998 in a massive show of support for the 152 million children around the world forced to work. “Being on the march and meeting former child laborers for me just made it so clear that it was just by luck that I had the life that I had,” says Kochar, who was raised in India and the U.S. “Any one of those children could have been me.” Kochar went to work for the march’s organizer, children’s advocate Kailash Satyarthi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, and his Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. She is involved in fundraising for its programs for victims of human trafficking in India, as well as in a worldwide campaign to empower young people to become advocates for children’s rights internationally. She has worked with a group of students who held a screening of a new documentary about Satyarthi for lawmakers at the Massachusetts Statehouse and supported students in Sweden who invited that country’s politicians back to school for a day of education about the global plight of children in 2017. “It’s about providing a space for young people to identify their passions, to give them tools and really allow them to start speaking truth to power,” she says.
Jay Celorie, Human Rights Officer, HP Inc.
Jay Celorie, who heads HP’s human rights efforts worldwide from his office in Corvallis, Oregon, realized he wanted to devote himself to this work in a corporate context after a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012. He had previously worked on environmental issues, but on this project, he was aiming to to limit the number of players in the supply chain of minerals mined for use in the production of HP laptop computers. “It blew me away,” says Celorie about visiting a mining community and meeting first-hand the people whose contributions to the final product typically go unseen. By cutting out middlemen, “we could pay more money to the miners, and also enable the mining company to do more for the community, including free schooling and a free medical clinic,” he says. “I knew we could do something good for the company and good for the people, and I wanted to be in that role.” Today Celorie leads HP's Human Rights Office and works with all relevant company functions to respect human rights and guide HP's internal human rights strategy and goals.
“Businesses are very powerful actors in the world today, particularly the multinationals,” says John Morrison. An anthropologist by training, Morrison worked in refugee protection and human trafficking in the former Yugoslavia and cut his teeth on human rights working as the public affairs director for The Body Shop, the British cosmetics company founded by Anita Roddick that pioneered ethical consumerism. Now the head of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, a London-based human rights think tank (or “think and do tank,” as he likes to call it), Morrison helps global corporations target human rights abuses in countries where they do business. He works on emerging issues in the global supply chain such as migrant workers paying recruitment fees instead of their employers and being treated by unscrupulous brokers as a commodity that can be transferred over international borders. “Millions of workers are having to in effect pay for their jobs by giving huge amounts of money to intermediaries,” he says. "We wouldn't expect our children to have to buy their jobs, why would we expect millions of people to mortgage their houses and their lands to do so?"
Verité is an Amherst, Massachusetts-based non-profit that provides research, training and audits for companies dedicated to promoting fair and safe labor practices for fishermen in Thailand, cotton farmers in India and workers on palm oil plantations in Indonesia, to name just a few of the 60 countries where it is active. As CEO, McDonald is enthusiastic about the growing potential of businesses to limit or end child labor; halt discrimination against women; and prevent unethical recruitment and hiring in the workforce. Verité’s Responsible Sourcing Tool, for instance, provides maps and other research to help companies visualize the risk of human trafficking in more than a dozen sectors of the economy in countries throughout the world. “Five years ago people barely even thought about the fishermen, they were concerned with the dolphins caught up in the nets,” he says. “Now, there’s an opening up of everybody’s eyes to how much more complicated workers’ and migrants’ lives are, as well as environmental concerns, and that’s really very satisfying.”
“My parents lived and worked overseas while I was growing up,” says Laura Rubbo, who is based in Burbank, Calif., “so I always was keenly aware that there was a big world out there with people and communities facing many different challenges.” Today, Rubbo puts her passion for improving the lives of others into ensuring that the nearly 40,000 factories worldwide where The Walt Disney Company’s products are made follow a human rights code of conduct that includes industry-leading occupational health and safety standards and protections against child and forced labor. “Part of it is making sure that the product supply chain remains secure,” she says, “but part of it is also about supporting jobs that are valuable to people and figuring out how global brands can use their leverage to promote better working conditions.”