A conversation with Caroline Rees, President and Co-Founder of Shift
In this episode of the Purpose, Inc. podcast, host Michael Young spoke with Caroline Rees, president and co-founder of Shift, a New York-based independent nonprofit center for business and human rights practice. A major focus of Caroline’s work is championing the need for a deeper understanding of how businesses should think about and act upon human rights.
Caroline addresses common misconceptions about human rights, namely that it is an “arcane and complicated and legalistic” topic. She instead defines human rights as “impacts on people;” and human rights helps to frame situations in a way that prioritizes attention on people who are most severely impacted by the practice of a business.
Human rights points to where people’s basic dignity and equality is being affected among those who are most vulnerable.
The more systemic the human rights challenges are in a community, the more shared they are across businesses, industries and societies, the stronger the need for collaborative endeavors and innovation to solve them. Rees explained that collective action reveals the powerful transformative potential of business leaders paying close attention to human rights.
“This is not just about asking ‘how do I do no harm?’”
According to Rees, if companies identify the presence of forced labor or child labor in their supply chain, they should collaborate with others in the industry, local governments or international organizations to systemically transform/improve these human rights realities.
Caroline pointed out that there are no shortage of predictions about COVID-19, but she has observed many companies are keeping minimal amounts of employees who have job security and access to benefits while more are on short-term contracts with no benefits. COVID-19 has brought into sharper focus the people who are most severely impacted: those who lack access to adequate healthcare, decent work conditions and fair wages.