Doing the right thing at the worst time: this is why protecting human rights protects businesses

human rights

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Enrique Lores, President and Chief Executive Officer, HP

  • Businesses need to take real action on racial justice here in America and stand up for human rights across the world.
  • An ethical, sustainable, and resilient supply chain protects businesses and brands, strengthens customer relationships, and creates opportunities to innovate.
  • Companies have platforms to drive positive societal change. And there has never been a more important moment to use those platforms to stand up for human rights.

While the coronavirus pandemic has ushered in new challenges for companies around the world, it’s also laid bare injustices that have been with us for generations. In the US, we have seen this in the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black and Latino Americans, who are twice as likely to die of the virus. And in recent months, the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others have brought about a long overdue reckoning with the realities of systemic racism in America.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle racial injustice and inequality. In response, the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society has established a high-level community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers. The community will develop a vision, strategies and tools to proactively embed equity into the post-pandemic recovery and shape long-term inclusive change in our economies and societies.

As businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to ensure that equity, inclusion and justice define the “new normal” and tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It is increasingly clear that new workplace technologies and practices can be leveraged to significantly improve diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes.

The World Economic Forum has developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit, to outline the practical opportunities that this new technology represents for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, while describing the challenges that come with it.

The toolkit explores how technology can help reduce bias from recruitment processes, diversify talent pools and benchmark diversity and inclusion across organisations. The toolkit also cites research that suggests well-managed diverse teams significantly outperform homogenous ones over time, across profitability, innovation, decision-making and employee engagement.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Toolkit is available here.

While it has been a difficult few months, it is often the times of greatest struggle that serve as catalysts for our greatest progress. And, as painful as this moment in our history has been for so many, I have been inspired to see people of all backgrounds, ages, and races join hands and honestly reexamine the present in order to bring about a more just future.

Everyone has a role to play in this movement—and that includes corporations, who need to do much more than post a black square to their Instagram before going back to business as usual. That means taking real action on racial justice here in America and standing up for human rights across the world.

After all, the fight for progress is not limited to any one country—it has always been universal. As the late Congressman John Lewis once said, “We are one people, one family, the human family, and what affects one of us affects us all.” That is why, at HP, in addition to all of the steps we’re taking in support of racial equality here at home, we are also committed to living by our values in every community in which we operate—across our supply chain.


Around the world, we have hundreds of production suppliers and thousands of nonproduction suppliers. And like other companies of our scale and scope, our supply chain faces risks of exploitation and abuse of workers. But ever since we joined the UN Global Compact nearly two decades ago, we have been working to address social and environmental issues across our supply chain, requiring all who do business with HP to uphold ethical business practices at all times—and auditing them regularly to ensure that they do.

To that end, we’ve implemented robust due diligence, leading standards and policies, and proactive skills, wellbeing, and capability programmes—and we have taken strong action to safeguard these workers and address violations where they occur.

It’s not only the right thing to do—we also know that an ethical, sustainable, and resilient supply chain protects our business and brand, strengthens customer relationships, and creates opportunities to innovate.

This work is what has enabled us to become one of the 10 most sustainable companies, according to Barron’s. And it’s why, this year, we released our first Human Rights Progress Report—so we can document our successes and bring to light the areas where we must do better.

Research from APICS, Supply Chain Management Review and Loyola University Chicago finds that operating a responsible supply chain is an increasing priority. But gaps remain between practice and the goal. (2018)

Because until everyone has access to their basic human rights—safety, healthcare, education, a life free of discrimination—we still have work to do.

I understand that right now, many business leaders might be more focused on figuring out how to keep their companies afloat than standing up for their values. In recent months, many across the world have had to make sacrifices to make payroll, pay rent, and stay open.

If HP’s history is evidence of anything, it’s that when you build a strong, purpose-driven culture and focus on making life better for everyone, everywhere, you also create the conditions for your business to thrive.

—Enrique Lores, CEO and President, HP Inc.

In fact, just last year, our Sustainable Impact work helped drive more than $1.6 billion in sales wins.

As our founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, were known to say: “The biggest competitive advantage is to do the right thing at the worst time.”

They founded this company more than eighty years ago, but their words are as true as ever. Because as we’ve seen in recent months, when times are toughest—at the very moment when it’s hardest to do what you know is right—that’s when you can make the biggest difference. As companies, we each have platforms to drive positive societal change. And there has never been a more important moment for us to use our platforms to stand up for human rights, in our country and all around the world, than right now.

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