Susanne Stormer – Business Voice


Susanne Stormer
Vice President Corporate Sustainability, Novo Nordisk

 Integration – UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights -  Policy Development – Reporting

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Novo Nordisk is a focused healthcare company. Our key priority is diabetes care and haemophilia care so in essence we’re in chronic care treatment.

We started working with human rights already back in 1998 and I think that was at the time being a very early mover – certainly in our close environment in Denmark and in the industry. This was initiated by our then CEO who was inspired by a series of radio programmes where he heard about the Declaration on Human Rights and he felt that it was so much aligned with the philosophy that the company has been building on ever since, but also he felt compelled to ensure that we actually respect human rights. 

The first thing we did was to conduct a human rights assessment and we did that in 1999 where we had an external consultant looking into our practices. At the time when he was interviewing people in our organisation about the extent to which we are respecting human rights, many of our colleagues were a little bit puzzled and they were saying “well of course we respect human rights” but then when you dive into it and begin to understand what are the implications of human rights we could also find some areas where we may not be fully respecting human rights or where we may not be able to have a systematic approach to how we manage it. 

So from that gap assessment at the time came three areas that we wanted to look at. The first one was equal opportunities in the workplace. The second area we looked at was then looking to our customer relationships and where we identified the need to provide respect for human rights for people who rely on the products and the therapeutic treatment that we can offer – so this is in the space of what is now known as access to care or the right to health. 

The third area was then extending to our supply chain – what we were looking at was ‘can we ensure that our suppliers will also meet and respect human rights standards?’ So based on those three areas we then developed our strategies and targets and programmes for each of them, and then started working in this area.

One of the initiatives that we’ve been closely engaged with is the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights where we have been a member of the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights.  We were a founding member of its predecessor, the BLIHR initiative.

Following the launch of the Guiding Principles, Novo Nordisk was initially well positioned because we’d been working with human rights for so many years, but still we conducted a gap assessment to look at how well our current practices were meeting the principles. So what we did was to have another assessment by an independent party to look at our practices, to interview people who are responsible for various dimensions of this work, to look at the documentation that we could provide, and following that assessment we ended up with three recommendations that were something we needed to work with.

The first one related to our human rights policy, or rather the absence of a specific human rights policy.  In Novo Nordisk we have what we call The Novo Nordisk Way, which is the framework for the behaviours that we would like to see and that we would expect of all of our employees, we have a statement that says we respect people and inherent in that is a very deeply rooted respect for human rights – but having said that it is not an explicit human rights policy. So this was one, and what we did specifically to address that was in a first go to update our position on human rights which is available on our website and which speaks to how we interpret and how we seek to meet the Guiding Principles, so it is framed as a kind of a policy. 

The next area we looked at was the extent to which we could document – to know and show – our practices within our own organisation. We have been expecting of our suppliers for many years that they can live up to some basic principles named in the UN Global Compact principles, related to human rights, labour rights, environment and business ethics.  What we have not done specifically is to ensure that the same goes for our own workforce, so we have now been doing an assessment of the extent to which in our own organisation we are able to document that we are meeting the principles. 

And then the third one was related to grievance mechanisms and I think that this is another area where many companies are only now beginning to set up.  We have had a grievance mechanism for many, many years – an ombudsman function.  We also have a compliance hotline where employees and external people can approach independently and anonymously and report on any cases of suspected or perceived misconduct against our business ethics practices, against human rights, against The Novo Nordisk Way. What we could do better this analysis found, is that we could make it more visible and more prominent that we have this grievance mechanism, so this is another area of recommendation.

I think that one of the challenges for companies in meeting the requirements of the Guiding Principles is to really understand how you can demonstrate that you know and show your performance.  One of the areas that is, in my view, underdeveloped is reporting on human rights because this is very difficult to get to grips with and it’s not the same as what you do in, say, health and safety or environment because it’s not easy to have quantifiable metrics for this. 

So one of the ways that companies can get around that will be to report on their practices and I think also they will need to be able to communicate much more and to do that not only through their reporting but really in the conversations they’re having with their stakeholders, with their investors, most importantly, about what does respect for human rights mean to our business? How does it play out? In essence this is all about ensuring that there is consistency between what you say in your policies and what you practice – what you do in reality.  This is really where the proof-point will be. How do you do this in reality and how do you capture that – how do you accumulate that kind of information into something that is a meaningful reporting indicator.  I think this is an area where we need to be able to work collectively to come up with something that can work for companies and that can provide the transparency and accountability to the stakeholders that they will be expecting.

Extract revised for written version from audio file recorded in 2013