“Companies Have a Responsibility to Respect Human Rights”


RWI’s Malin Oud discussed corporate responsibility, human rights and sustainable consumption last month during Lund University Sustainability Week, co-organized by RWI along with the Lund University Sustainability Forum.

The changing global dynamics calls for a different approach to assigning accountability for human rights violations around the world. The “name and shame” approach does not always work anymore, she says, because “some governments today are shameless.”

Another challenge at hand, Oud said, is how to hold corporations responsible for workers’ rights. Oud said human rights typically entails the protection of individuals from state abuse, but today some companies have more power and leverage than governments.

“Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights,” said Oud in a panel that discussed the key drivers of promoting sustainable consumption.

Oud also moderated the opening panel at Sustainable Consumption Day, titled “#FashionRevolution: Human Rights and Sustainability in the textile industry,” held on the five-year anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh. Oud asked the panelists – who represented the Office for Social Responsibility of China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), the social sustainability department at H&M group, Individuell Människohjälp and the Business Administration Department at Lund University – about developments and current trends in human rights and sustainability in the fashion industry.

Panelists discussed the opportunities and challenges of reforming consumption patterns and corporate responsibility. They stressed the importance of transparency as a key tool in improving human rights conditions in the fashion industry, saying retailers have a responsibility in making their supply chains transparent. In turn, consumers should demand that companies fulfil their human rights obligations.

“It was encouraging to reflect on the improvements made in the global textile industry with regard to standards, policies, codes of conduct and different multistakeholder initiatives over the past two decades.  At the same time, a lot of work remains to ensure that these policies and codes translate into actual improvements for workers with regard to salary and working conditions. You can’t bring about change merely through factory audits – workers need to be empowered and companies held accountable. This is difficult to achieve in many contexts where transparency, freedom of association and access to justice is lacking”.

Oud currently serves as the head of the RWI Stockholm office and team leader of Economic Globalisation and Human Rights. She has over 15 years of experience with engaging the business sector on human rights and founded Tracktwo, a consulting firm which specialises in sustainable development, corporate responsibility and human rights.