“Due diligence is about doing your homework,” says Ylva Stiller, Human Rights Director at Stora Enso. “It’s our responsibility to understand the impacts our business may have on people. We also need to make sure that our processes and instructions are understood equally well wherever we operate.”
Human rights are not always a formal part of a company’s everyday processes, which can lead to a false sense of everything being under control.
“Companies that take human rights seriously usually integrate them into a lot of things they are already doing,” Stiller says. “At Stora Enso, human rights risks and impacts are considered in everything we do, including investment decisions, and we also monitor internal compliance. But like all companies, we too must continuously evaluate where we could do better.”
A small change in a big company’s ways of working can have a significant positive impact on many people. But human rights work requires commitment – and focus.
“At Stora Enso, human rights are on our Sustainability Agenda, their importance is recognised by leadership, and we have learned from past challenges,” Stiller says. “We understand that our business impacts people. Now we need to tighten our focus.”
During 2018, Stora Enso defined eight highest priority human rights that will be the primary focus of our future work. We are also updating our human rights due diligence and monitoring programme to reflect these priority human rights.
“We of course respect and will continue to keep an eye on all human rights impacts of our operations – it’s our responsibility,” says Stiller. “But the eight highest priority human rights are closely connected to our everyday business as the renewable materials company. They are the areas where we have the biggest opportunity to impact positive change, and on the other hand, where we could potentially have the biggest adverse impacts if not managed correctly.”
In countries where citizens are not protected by law, companies have the responsibility to ensure that their rights are respected regardless. Sometimes this means finding ways to mitigate between local customs and company values. In other countries, strict laws may have us thinking there are no problems.
“In regions like the Nordic countries, we tend to think that human rights impacts don’t exist but they do,” Stiller says. “For example, people are often brought in from poor countries and promised well-paying jobs that turn out to mean working conditions resembling modern slavery. So, we need to stay alert for impacts on people everywhere.
“Respecting human rights is not a complicated concept. It’s about treating people with decency and respect and asking ourselves ‘Does this feel like the right thing to do?’”