Statement of Salient Issues

To set out clearly those human rights issues on which the remainder of the company’s reporting under Section C of this Framework will focus. These issues should reflect the human rights at risk of the most severe negative impact through the company’s activities or business relationships.

A company’s salient human rights issues are those human rights that are at risk of the most severe negative impact through its activities or business relationships. Identifying the company’s salient human rights issues is also the first step of human rights due diligence under the UN Guiding Principles. For due diligence, this assessment and prioritization of human rights risks is about sequencing: knowing where to focus the company’s efforts and resources first if it cannot address all impacts at once. It is not about ignoring less salient issues. For human rights reporting, the company’s salient human rights issues define a cut-off point: the company’s reporting will then focus on how the company understands and manages these issues.

Companies’ processes to identify their salient human rights issues should focus on the most severe potential negative impacts on human rights:

A. Most severe: meaning those impacts that would be greatest in terms of:

a. their scale: the gravity of the impact on the human right(s); and/or

b. their scope: the number of individuals that are or could be affected; and/or

c. their remediability: the ease with which those impacted could be restored to their prior enjoyment of the right(s).

B. Potential: meaning those impacts that have some likelihood of occurring in the future, recognizing that these are often, though not limited to, those impacts that have occurred in the past;

C. Negative: placing the focus on the avoidance of harm to human rights rather than unrelated initiatives to support or promote human rights;

D. Impacts on human rights: placing the focus on risk to people, rather than on risk to the business.

Salient human rights issues may consist of individual human rights (such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to non-discrimination or the right to water and sanitation), or they may be more general categories that relate to a business activity, a group of potentially affected individuals, or operating contexts that have implications for more than one human right (such as security and human rights, indigenous people’s rights, land-related human rights).
An understanding of a company’s salient human rights issues is built on a process by which the company:

  • identifies the full range of human rights that could potentially be negatively impacted by its activities or through its business relationships:
    • involving all relevant functions and units across the business;
    • informed by the perspectives of those who may be negatively impacted;
  • prioritizes potential negative impacts for attention:
    • primarily based on their potential severity, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles, namely:
      • how grave the impact would be;
      • how widespread the impact would be;
      • how hard it would be to put right the resulting harm;
    • secondarily based on their likelihood, retaining due attention to high-severity, low-likelihood impacts;
  • engages with internal and external stakeholders to explain its conclusions and check whether any considerations have been missed.

If the number of salient issues initially identified is too large for the company to report on concisely, it may use the defining elements of ‘severity’ set out above to reduce the number further, for example, by focusing on those impacts that are most widespread in the company’s operations or value chain.

Identifying salient human rights issues

Companies’ processes to identify their salient human rights issues should encompass:

A. Not only their activities but also their business relationships, understood as including their business partners, businesses in their value chains (including those that are one or more tiers removed) and any other business, government or other entity that is directly linked to their operations, products or services.

B. The full range of individuals or groups that may be impacted as a result of these activities and relationships, including:

i. the company’s own employees and contract workers;

ii. employees and contract workers of companies that contribute to its operations, products or services through its value chain;

iii. communities affected by the company’s operations;

iv. end users or consumers of its products or services;

v. any other stakeholder groups that may be impacted through its activities or business relationships.

Some groups may be particularly vulnerable to impacts in certain circumstances, for instance, indigenous peoples, children, women or ethnic groups.

C. Negative impacts that the company could cause, contribute to or which could be directly linked to its operations, products or services, without contribution on its part. For more on understanding these different ways the company can be involved with human rights impacts, see the commentary to UN Guiding Principle 19 and The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretative Guide.

If the company identifies a new salient human rights issue after the reporting period but before the report is made public, it should report this fact. It should use the questions in the Reporting Framework to address this new salient issue, in the same way as if it had arisen during the reporting period. If, due to limited time, the company is not able to understand and respond to this new salient issue sufficiently to answer the same questions under the Reporting Framework as it does for other issues, the company should make this clear.

The reporting company may identify certain severe human rights impacts that have occurred during the reporting period but which do not relate to one of the salient issues because they were isolated and unlikely to recur. Section B4 provides guidance to the company on including these impacts in its reporting.

Section 7 of the Overview of the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework (PDF) or this webpage explain the relationship between salient human rights issues and the concept of materiality, as well as how the two can be used together when human rights disclosure forms part of a broader report that uses materiality as its primary lens.

Essential information includes:

  • The salient human rights issues the reporting company has identified and that it will address in its responses to questions in Section C.

UN Guiding Principle 18 provides that:

“In order to gauge human rights risks, business enterprises should identify and assess any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which they may be involved either through their own activities or as a result of their business relationships. This process should:

(a) Draw on internal and/or independent external human rights expertise;

(b) Involve meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders, as appropriate to the size of the business enterprise and the nature and context of the operation.”

The commentary to UN Guiding Principle 18 states that:

“The initial step in conducting human rights due diligence is to identify and assess the nature of the actual and potential adverse human rights impacts with which a business enterprise may be involved. The purpose is to understand the specific impacts on specific people, given a specific context of operations. Typically this includes assessing the human rights context prior to a proposed business activity, where possible; identifying who may be affected; cataloguing the relevant human rights standards and issues; and projecting how the proposed activity and associated business relationships could have adverse human rights impacts on those identified.

In this process, business enterprises should pay special attention to any particular human rights impacts on individuals from groups or populations that may be at heightened risk of vulnerability or marginalization, and bear in mind the different risks that may be faced by women and men.”

UN Guiding Principle 24 provides that:

“Where it is necessary to prioritize actions to address actual and potential adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should first seek to prevent and mitigate those that are most severe or where delayed response would make them irremediable.”

The commentary to UN Guiding Principle 24 states that:

“While business enterprises should address all their adverse human rights impacts, it may not always be possible to address them simultaneously. In the absence of specific legal guidance, if prioritization is necessary business enterprises should begin with those human rights impacts that would be most severe, recognizing that a delayed response may affect remediability. Severity is not an absolute concept in this context, but is relative to the other human rights impacts the business enterprise has identified.”

The Interpretive Guide to the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights states that:

“The most salient human rights for a business enterprise are those that stand out as being most at risk. This will typically vary according to its sector and operating context. The Guiding Principles make clear that an enterprise should not focus exclusively on the most salient human rights issues and ignore others that might arise. But the most salient rights will logically be the ones on which it concentrates its primary efforts.”

These references are intended to help users identify which provisions from other initiatives would be relevant as part of the answer to this question. They are not a substitute for the guidance above.
See the cross-references to other initiatives page for a key to the initiatives referenced.
Initiative Reference point