Human rights is a fundamental part of our sustainability agenda because it touches on a wide range of issues related to the responsible conduct of any business, particularly in relation to its workplace and supply chain.
As an international Group which does business in more than 180 countries, we are particularly aware of issues around our presence in countries where poor human rights situations often go hand in hand with difficult business environments.
Our position as a tobacco manufacturer that directly contracts with farmers on a significant scale (we contract directly with approximately 250,000 farmers) means that we are aware of the many human rights issues surrounding agricultural supply chains, particularly in the developing world, such as child labour, farmer welfare, and occupational health and safety.
Human rights considerations are reflected in our principles, specifically in our Statement of Business Principles and in our Employment Principles. Our Business Principles state our belief that universally recognised fundamental human rights should be respected. Our Employment Principles cover workplace-related human rights issues such as discrimination, freedom of association, child labour, forced labour, health and safety, and conditions of work.
Human rights considerations are incorporated into our major supply chain management tools: Business Enabler Survey Tool (BEST) and Social Responsibility in Tobacco Production (SRTP) programme.
Responsibility for our management of human rights is embedded in our governance processes, primarily through our internal auditing, involving audit and CSR committees at all levels and the risk assessments undertaken by all our companies. Major revisions were made to our governance process in 2008 and these are described in the CSR governance section and in the assurance statement.
Engaging with stakeholders
We held a dedicated stakeholder dialogue on human rights in 2008. Stakeholders emphasised the value of having a single concise statement of our approach to human rights, showing how our principles, standards, management tools and governance support each other in our approach to human rights.
Stakeholders also wanted us to be more explicit about what external sources we use as our reference points in developing our approach. Dialogue participants recommended that we do more with our suppliers and with local stakeholders in countries of concern. They also wanted us to make clearer what criteria we use to assess our operations in such countries.
Revising our approach
Our approach to human rights monitoring was revised in 2008, partly in response to this dialogue. We believe that the following changes will increase awareness of human rights considerations across the business and ensure that we can more effectively identify and manage human rights risks at an early stage:
- We have simplified our approach to human rights management and have introduced a specific new control on human rights in our internal audit control checklist, in order to help ensure a consistent approach to human rights across our business;
- We will provide an annual human rights report to the Board CSR Committee, which now has a standing agenda item on human rights in countries of concern where we do business. This report will be influenced by a range of authoritative external sources; and
- Our Regional Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Managers are required to report on significant changes in the human rights situation in all countries where we do business and in particular in countries of concern at each of the three regional audit and CSR committees held in their region annually.
2009 will see further embedding of our approach to human rights. This will include:
- Publishing a paper summarising our approach to human rights and how we manage human rights in our workplace and supply chain; and
- Developing provisions incorporating human rights considerations for inclusion in our Standard Terms and Conditions for contracts with suppliers.