Ed Potter – Business Voice

Ed Potter – Director, Global Workplace Rights, The Coca-Cola Company

      • Policy commitment - Addressing all human rights - Value chain analysis

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While we have a deceptively simple business of selling only non-alcoholic beverages we have over 500 brands and operate in 206 countries.  The majority of our 900 bottling locations are independent businesses, and our direct supply chain is more than 15000 businesses. When you think of our beverages as a water cocktail of agricultural commodities you can begin to appreciate that we are a complicated business that presents interesting business and human rights due diligence challenges.  We’ve been working on coming to grips with all human rights since the very beginning of the John Ruggie mandate in 2005.  In 2007 we joined the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights to begin to better understand how respect for all human rights connected to our business.

In 2007 we adopted our Human Rights Statement and Work Place Rights Policy that included training and a Managers Guide.  Our Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights experience helped us understand that we probably had some gaps in our global policies and practices.  In 2009 we asked the Danish Institute for Human Rights to do a Human Rights Gap Analysis which resulted in a 250 page report on my desk literally on Christmas Day.  For seven months in 2010 we methodically went through the whole report looking at two human rights every two weeks.  This work all resulted in an updated Managers Guide for the Human Rights Statement and Workplace Rights Policy, and new training throughout 2011.  From a Coca-Cola Company perspective the essence of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is not entirely new to us.  We have three baseline strategies that include defining what we stand for, early issue identification and expeditious resolution of issues, and robust stakeholder engagement.  These strategies are encompassed in the Guiding Principles guidance that established the basis on which companies show respect for human rights.  Firstly you have a policy, then you conduct human due diligence on potential human rights impacts and mitigate those impacts when they occur. 

The value of the Guiding Principles from our perspective is that they’ve provided a universally accepted framework as to what a company is supposed to do to show respect for all human rights.  Since the adoption of the Guiding Principles by the Human Rights Council we’ve been moving forward to implement the Guiding Principles.  So far we have conducted a value chain analysis of our human rights impacts, we have mapped the risks and mitigation strategies with respect to those potential impacts, and we have updated our existing policies and practices. 

One conclusion that I would draw from all of this is that showing respect for all human rights takes time and not all issues, at the end of the day, have human rights impacts.  One lesson is not to overcomplicate the process and to involve as many levels and functions of the business as you can.  In our experience there has been no internal opposition because there has been Board of Directors and Senior Directors support for this work all along the way, but I think you need to be prepared for surprises.  For example we understood that we had migrant labour in our supply chain and we expected to find that migrant labour primarily in developing counties, but this year (2012) we were surprised to find that there was migrant labour in our orange supply chain in Italy and once we looked into that we understood that we actually didn’t understand as well as we should what our supply chain looked like and so we have gone through a multi-step process to better understand that supply chain.  So even with the best of will and intention you should not expect that when you get a completed due diligence process that you will have understood and mitigated all of your human rights impacts.  This is a journey and it will take the length of time that your business is in business.

Extract revised for written version from audio file recorded in August 2012.