As a diversified, global company with growth in emerging markets, and as a provider of infrastructure around the world, GE regularly confronts complex human rights challenges. Our approach to those challenges starts with the Company’s Statement of Principles on Human Rights, which outlines our commitment to respecting human rights wherever we operate and to demanding the same commitment from our business partners. To embed this commitment within our business operations, we have developed human rights “implementing procedures” that help our businesses incorporate human rights considerations in all aspects of their operations.
With the adoption by the UN Human Rights Commission of the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business in 2012, there was for the first time a broad agreement on a human rights framework: the states’ duty to protect, businesses’ duty to respect, and the mutual duty to address human rights deprivations. Despite this agreed-upon framework, however, there remains government and NGO pressure for increased “hard law” in this space, from legislation mandating specific due-diligence measures and regulations requiring transparency and reporting to broad national action plans and even suggestions of a global treaty on human rights. We believe the Guiding Principles provide the fairest and most realistic framework for protecting human rights globally, but we recognize that for the Principles to succeed business entities like GE need to “know and show” that they have robust programs for fulfilling their responsibility to respect human rights.
One good example of GE’s approach to unique human rights challenges concerns our work in some countries where the role of women is restricted. Specifically, we have been undertaking an innovative business approach in Saudi Arabia to empowering women in the Middle East. That work recently led to GE’s receiving the 2017 U.S. Department of State’s Global Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) for our inclusive hiring practices in Saudi Arabia, underlined by the GE-sponsored All-Women Business Process & IT Services Center in Riyadh.
The scourge of forced labor is a human rights priority globally, especially in widespread supply chains. One global regulatory response has been the requirement that corporations report on their efforts to prevent modern slavery in their operations and those of their suppliers. GE has published such reports in response to regulations in California (See GE California Statement) and the United Kingdom (U.K.). GE’s first U.K. Modern Slavery Act Transparency Statement (MSA), published in 2017, describes the efforts we have taken to prevent forced labor where we operate and do business, including updated policies prohibiting practices that lead to modern slavery, new forced-labor training for supply chain auditors, the continued implementation of our global supply chain audit program, and collaboration with global associations such as the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Institute for Human Rights and Business to find better ways to address this problem. This year, we are also participating in a smartphone-enabled workers’ voice pilot to evaluate how such programs may increase the opportunities for supply chain workers to raise labor concerns.
GE remains committed to respecting not only the human rights of our own employees, but also those of our partners’ employees and the members of the communities where we operate. Such respect is a foundational requirement of both our GE and Supplier Integrity programs, and we seek to drive compliance through continued improvement in audit techniques, workers’ voice programs, and employee training. We also believe collaboration and best-practice sharing, through organizations such as the Global Business Initiative for Human Rights—of which GE is a founding member—help companies work together toward the common goal of upholding the principles first laid out by the United Nations in 1948, with its historic issuance of the UN Declaration on Human Rights.