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UN Forum Series Blog: Asking the basic questions: Are voluntary standard-setting initiatives protecting human rights?

Over the last two decades, voluntary standard-setting initiatives have proliferated, becoming one of the most popular tools for addressing the human rights impacts of global business activities...But despite their proliferation, we still cannot answer a fundamental question: are voluntary initiatives protecting human rights? More fundamentally, why don’t we know whether these initiatives are protecting human rights?...Standard-setting initiatives frequently trumpet the inclusion of new companies, or the expansion to new industries or issues, as markers of success. However, expanding the size or scope of an initiative should not, by itself, be seen as a measure of “progress” from a human rights perspective—an initiative could cover an entire industry, but have made few gains on the ground...[M]easuring human rights impacts or outcomes requires considerable time, resources, and expertise. It may also require key actors to open their doors to external evaluation. In instances when it is not feasible to measure human rights impacts, we encourage actors to use appropriate proxies to examine whether an initiative may protect human rights.

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