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The Valuing Respect Project: Developing Better Ways to Evaluate Business Respect for Human Rights

This collaborative project aims to develop better ways of using information, metrics and indicators to evaluate business respect for human rights. It is founded in an open process of shared research, dialogue and co-creation.

February 2018

PARTNERS: Regional Partners: The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the ASEAN CSR Network and the Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business; Funders: Humanity United and Norges Bank Investment Management

Also see: our Viewpoint "The Way Businesses' Social Performance Gets Measured Isn't Working"

Everyone who is trying to embed respect and dignity for vulnerable people at the core of how business gets done needs to be able to assess what is working and what isn’t. This enables markets and societies to recognize, reward and incentivize those practices that make a real difference in the lives of affected people. The thoughtful use of qualitative and quantitative data are essential to make this happen.

At present, however, much of the information on which companies’ human rights performance – and, by extension, their broader “social” performance – is assessed, is at best superficial and at worst misleading. This distorts how companies allocate their resources and it leads markets (and others) to reward at times poor or inadequate behaviors, while leading practice can go unrecognized and under-supported.

As a result of these shortcomings in practice, the outcomes for those individuals, groups and communities most vulnerable to the impacts of business are improving far slower than they should, and in some cases are being made worse.

At the same time, a growing number of innovators are lighting the path to better solutions. New approaches to measuring how business decisions impact people are being quietly explored within companies and piloted through collaborations with trade unions and civil society. New methods to hear and learn from the people who are themselves impacted by business are being developed and tested. New areas of research are bringing to light data about impacts that was not previously accessible, and long-standing areas of research and practice offer us pertinent lessons – from the development, health and safety, and change management fields, among others.

There is now a critical challenge and opportunity to develop better ways to measure business respect for human rights. The Valuing Respect project is a three-year collaboration led by Shift in response to that need.

Watch Shift's President Caroline Rees speaking on the value of doing business with respect for human rights, at the opening of the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York City on January 29, 2018.

Shift is delighted to be joined by three regional partners in this project: the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the ASEAN CSR Network and the Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business. Shift and regional partners are grateful to Humanity United for providing the project with seed funding, and to Norges Bank Investment Management for a three-year grant in support of this work.


The project’s ultimate aim is to support everyone, including investors, civil society, business leaders and policy makers, to use metrics and indicators in ways that effectively drive business respect for human rights and make a real, positive difference to people’s lives.


  • There is no predetermined outcome to this project. There is no simple “answer” nor a single “correct” model. We aim to develop a range of outputs that might include principles, example indicators, good practices, models and methodologies that can guide the improved evaluation of business respect for human rights.
  • The resources we develop will need to carry wide support, and will be available for everyone to draw from as befits their own work and objectives.


  • The project is based on an open process of research, consultation and the gradual crystallization of conclusions and resources. It will involve diverse experts and stakeholders, and be open to all via regular updates posted online.
  • We will use this project page to highlight research questions and share research papers, test emerging insights, share challenges we are facing, gather links to third party initiatives, share agendas, materials and reports from consultations, and invite specific contributions.
  • In the first year of the project, we will host four multistakeholder expert meetings in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These meetings will inform our analysis of the current situation, and will serve to bring together existing innovations and projects addressing the challenge of measuring business impacts on people. In the second and third years of the project, we will widen and deepen the conversation, moving to co-creation mode as we work with many different actors to crystallize insights, draw conclusions and develop resources.
  • Our regional partners will take a central role in leading regional research and consultations, as well as in working closely with Shift in drawing conclusions from the growing body of knowledge and insight that this produces.
  • We will constitute a Core Advisory Group to help us steer the project. This Group will include experts from a range of disciplines, regions and stakeholder groups. Membership of the Core Advisory Group will be announced soon.


  • The project is underpinned by a multi-faceted research agenda in which we are partnering with universities, civil society, business networks, investor groups, reporting and transparency initiatives, and others.
  • Our areas of focus in the first year will include:
    • Analyzing the current use of human rights related metrics across reporting frameworks, industry sectors, supply chain initiatives and ESG products and indices, with the aim of identifying patterns, what is working and innovations.
    • Deep dives into important yet challenging issues such as measuring governance and culture, business model “red flags,” the quality of stakeholder relationships, the assessment of outcomes for people, business case data points and lessons from more “mature” fields (such as ethics and health and safety).
    • Mapping innovative initiatives and research efforts that are focused on business’ social performance and impact.
    • Engaging with practitioners from within and outside business to understand what they are currently measuring, what they think they should be measuring (but are not) and how to move from the current to desired state of practice.
  • We plan to engage experts and collaborate with others in order to integrate expertise and insights from diverse disciplines including accounting, management theory, international development, behavioral economics and data science. 

We invite everyone with an idea, a challenge, a question or an interest in this work to connect with us and join the conversation. Please contact:

Mark Hodge, Senior Associate, Shift: mark.hodge[at]

Caroline Rees, President, Shift: caroline.rees[at]

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