Responding department: Legal
Stock Exchange Symbol: (GE:US)
Does your company have a publicly available commitment to respect human rights?
Integrity (The Spirit & The Letter) – Includes Supplier Relationships, FEP, EHS, Privacy: [link]
Statement of Principles on Human Rights [link]
Ethical Supply Chain: [link]
How are human rights governed in your company?
The lead responsibility for Human Rights rolls up to the General Counsel. Operationally, the Company’s human rights initiative is coordinated by the Sr. Labor and Employment Counsel in collaboration with legal peers in the area of EHS, Sourcing, International Law and Policy, and with the support of the GE Foundation. Human Rights is also a broad plank within the Company’s overall approach to Sustainability and Compliance. Each of the seven major GE business have designated a Human Rights Champion that is responsible for effectuating GE’s Human Rights Implementing Guidelines that focus on human rights issues that are particularly salient for each respective business. Human Right concerns are presented to the GE Board of Directors’ Public Responsibilities Committee as warranted or at least annually. As stated in the Company’s Statement of Principles on Human Rights, the Company recognizes its obligation to respect human rights in all aspects of its operations by conducting due diligence, avoiding or minimizing human rights impairments, monitoring and tracking its performance, and providing appropriate remedies in the event of harm. As our growth plan has expanded our operations within emerging markets where human rights are notably under pressure, we have increased our focus on human rights issues we are likely to encounter. Also, several of our business – Water, Healthcare, Energy – are particular focused on human rights imperatives that are faced by citizens of countries in the emerging markets.
How are human rights managed within your company?
As noted above, respect for human rights is a shared responsibility among functional leaders and business experts in various areas like sourcing, legal, EHS, etc. This all occurs within the framework of the Company’s Statement of Principles on Human Rights, its Supplier Expectation, its Integrity Program, and other policies and procedures that address human rights in rights specific contexts. The Implementing Guidelines on Human Rights seeks to pull these existing policies and procedures together and examine GE’s commercial and operational activities through a focused human rights lens at both the business and corporate levels. These processes are designed to calibrate due diligence and risk mitigation with foreseeable harms in order to avoid or at least minimize such harms. Our business partners learn of our commitment in this regard through our Statement of Principles on Human Rights, our Supplier Expectations Guidelines, our various due diligence procedures, our Know Your Customer process, our auditing activities, and other routines such as governance requirements for Joint Venture partners. Functional leaders and employees assigned to leadership roles in emerging markets receive specific human rights training through an online training program. All employees receive myriad training on numerous practices and policies that touch upon human right topics – such as freedom of association, non-discrimination, employee health and safety, privacy, etc.. Additionally, our Sourcing function carries out extensive in-person training for individuals charged with auditing our sourcing partners located in countries where human rights have been historically under pressure. These audits track various human rights, EHS, and other findings that fall below basic international standards and auditors are required to work with the supplier to either fix the concerns within set timeframes or terminate the supplier relationship.
What is the company’s approach to the engagement of stakeholders (including workers, and local communities impacted by the company’s activities), on human rights issues?
Stakeholder engagement occurs at many different levels at GE. At the highest level, in 2007 our Board of Directors convened stakeholders panels which encouraged GE to increase its focus on human rights by collaborating with companies who were attuned to these issues. In response and to quickly mount the learning curve, GE joined the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights and now the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights. As of 2008 we also became members of the UN Global Compact and have engaged repeatedly with John Ruggie and his team for the past 7 years. Through our various functional staffs, we frequently engage with NGOs and CSR groups in the context of specific operational areas such as power and sustainability (Ecomagination), healthcare (Healthymagination), climate change, conflict minerals, etc. GE employees are encouraged to raise human rights issues through our Open Reporting/Ombuds processes, and we undertake community outreach at each of our manufacturing locations throughout the globe.
Priority human rights issues: What are some of the priority human rights issues for your company?
The company selected the following from a check list:
- Health (including workplace health & safety, prevention of pollution)
- Workplace diversity / non-discrimination
- Forced labour and human trafficking (including in supply chains)
- Sexual harassment
- Freedom of association and trade union rights
- Access to water
- Freedom of expression and/or right to privacy / digital rights
- Relations with security forces
- Conflict minerals
- Product misuse
Actions on women
GE maintains employee organizations known as Employee Networks that are focused on sustaining and growing diversity within our employee population. These include Networks dedicated to supporting women, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered) employees. Naturally, the most global of these Networks is the Women’s Network. A particularly notable example of GE’s efforts to apply international human rights standards to women equality was launched in past year in Saudi Arabia. There, a joint venture among GE, Tata, and Saudi Aramco established a Business Practices Operation in Saudi Arabia that will be exclusively staffed by women and is scheduled to hire over 3,000 Saudi women.
How are human rights commitments and information about how the company addresses its human rights impacts communicated, internally and externally?
For well over a decade, each year the Company issues a Citizenship Report (now called Sustainability Report) that includes sections specifically dedicated to human rights. This Report broadly reflects the GRI expectations on responsible reporting. This Report also focuses on issues such as sustainability, Ecomagination, EHS/sourcing practices, Diversity and other Company initiatives that address human rights issues. The websites references in response ot Question #1 offer pathways to this coverage.
What provisions does your company have in place to ensure that grievances from workers and affected communities or individuals are heard, and can you provide examples of remedies provided?
GE has multiple grievance intake mechanisms. They exist at individual workplace locations, at the business level, through the Company headquarters, and by communication directly with the Board of Directors. The exact forms of grievance mechanisms vary broadly due to the nature of the workforce (union represented or unrepresented), country location (US: unions, EU: works councils, Globally: employee safety teams, etc.), salaried vs hour populations (Alternative Dispute Resolution programs, peer panels), and many other factors like whether anonymous reporting is permitted, whether the grievant has access to a GE facility, email or telephone access, etc. In short, we actively seek out reporting of grievances by our employees and other interested stakeholders. All of the various grievance reporting mechanisms are closed loop systems such that we assure accurate intake, prompt and thorough investigations, objective and fair grievance assessment, and suitable remedies.
Which external and collaborative human rights initiatives does your company participate in, and what is the nature of your involvement?
GE became a member of the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights in 2007 and is a charter member of the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights. We are also a member of the UN Global Compact where, in collaboration with Maplecroft, the GE Foundation sponsors the UNGC Human Rights and Business Development Forum ([link]). We played leadership roles in various advisory groups that helped influence the US regulations on Conflict Minerals. Our Statement of Principles on Human Rights expressly adopts the Voluntary Principle on Security and Human Rights. We also are members of groups focused on climate change such as C2ES.
Which are the key one, two or three elements of your approach to human rights that been developed or amended since June 2011? Please indicate if these actions were in response to the UN Guiding Principles.
As noted above, GE has been a member of two forward thinking employer organizations, each of which had close ties to John Ruggie and his team as these Guiding Principles were under development. Accordingly, the major components of our human rights program were fashioned in parallel to the human rights principles that found their way into the UN Guiding Principles. For example, as early as 2007 we were encouraged by the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights, which included Ruggie team members as advisors, to develop a standalone Statement of Principles on Human Rights. Another example of this parallelism can be found in our sponsorship of a Sector-wide Impact Assessment undertaken by the Institute on Human Rights and Business focused on the Oil and Gas Sector in Myanmar. This sponsorship was undertaken in light of the emphasis placed on due diligence in the Guiding Principles in order to reduce impairment of human rights
What are some of the obstacles and challenges that your company encounters in implementing its human rights commitments?
The biggest challenge GE faces is to get the right level of human rights training and awareness among and within our 300,000+ employees, scattered across over 100 countries and within seven businesses. Each of these businesses have varying exposure to salient human rights risks that will differ based on an employee’s function, level, country location, industry sector, etc. While all GE employees receive elements of human rights training and are subject to policies that deal with human rights topics like non-discrimination, privacy, prohibitions on child and forced labor, etc., calibrating the warranted extent of specialized/focused human rights training for each individual employee and delivering it effectively is a tall order.