Today, The Coca-Cola Company took another step forward on its human rights journey by releasing its first stand-alone Human Rights Report. The report aligns with the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles Reporting Framework and shares how the company identified and addressed its salient human rights risks. It also communicates the main achievements realized during the reporting time frame.             

The 2016-2017 Human Rights Report, which complements Coke's 2016-2017 Sustainability Report, provides a comprehensive look at risks beyond the global Coca-Cola supply chain. As a global company operating in more than 200 countries and territories, it is important for Coca-Cola to understand and be transparent about its unique impact on people and communities. Doing so is integral to Coke's social license to operate, and essential to its success as a company.

We had the opportunity to speak with Brent Wilton, Director of Global Workplace Rights at The Coca-Cola Company, to understand the background and importance of this report.

Why is The Coca-Cola Company releasing a Human Rights Report?

Respect for human rights is fundamental to the sustainability of The Coca-Cola Company and the communities where we operate. Our approach to human rights has matured over the decades as have the expectations of our stakeholders. Respect for human rights is a journey that requires commitment and leadership. The release of our first stand-alone Human Rights Report is an important step forward in that journey. We are working to continuously review the Coca-Cola System’s impact on human rights and do so in a transparent and meaningful way. We see this report as an important step forward on that journey.

Is it important that companies align human rights reporting with the United Nations Guiding Principles Reporting Framework?

For The Coca-Cola Company, it is. The Coca-Cola Company has publicly supported the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights since its inception in 2011. The UN Guiding Principles are the foundation of our policies and programs on human rights. The UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, established in 2015, is the first comprehensive guidance for companies to report on human rights issues. As we strive to deliver the information stakeholders and people want to know, the framework provides a useful way to communicate our human rights impacts and enhances our ability to do so in a transparent and comprehensive way.

How is this Human Rights Report different from the Sustainability Report?

While we have reported on human rights updates and progress for a long time through our Company website and our Sustainability Reports, the Human Rights Report provides a more comprehensive picture of our human rights engagement and our impacts on people and communities. And, for the first time we publicly list and discuss our 13 identified salient human rights issues, which include risks related to safety and health of all workers; equality; child labor; forced labor; land rights; right to privacy; and more.

How were The Coca-Cola Company’s 13 salient human rights issues identified?

Through an extensive internal and external consultation process we identified and confirmed 13 salient human rights issues associated with the Company`s activities and business relationships. Internally, our own business leaders, top bottling partners and suppliers around the world were consulted. Externally, 63 individuals representing 57 organizations, whose work connects to human rights issues related to our global value chain, were consulted. Stakeholders and other experts in Brazil, China, Europe, India, Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and United States were also engaged.

Although these issues aren’t new for us, the consultation process confirmed that much of our human rights focus is appropriate and has equipped us to move in a more strategic direction in addressing these issues.

In addition to gathering reaction and input from stakeholders and experts on our internal assessment of our most salient human rights risks, we used this stakeholder engagement opportunity to share and receive feedback on revisions to our Human Rights Policy, which will be updated and broadly shared on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2017.

What action is The Coca-Cola Company taking to address its salient human rights issues?

It is important for us to have a clear understanding how we, as a Company, as well as our bottlers and suppliers, perform related to the identified salient human rights risks. This understanding is gained through our 2,500+ audits, each year that show us a compliance rate for workplace-related human rights, and also importantly through a strong risk management and due diligence process that enables us to better respond to salient human rights issues.

What are the emerging areas that The Coca-Cola Company will need to address?

In this first report, we have identified that access to remedy for workers in our supply chain, protection of human rights defenders, accuracy of data gathering, and integration of the UN Guiding Principles deep into our supply chain are areas requiring more attention.

Over the next year and beyond we will examine and engage in work toward positively impacting these issues, and report on progress.

With an area as complex and ever-changing as human rights, more work will always need to be done.

Why is The Coca-Cola Company updating its Human Rights Policy?

Human rights issues are only becoming more prominent with increasing legislation, benchmarks and growing attentiveness of stakeholders. As human rights issues and engagement evolve, so must we. Our social license to operate depends on our ability and effectiveness in identifying, preventing and mitigating negative human rights impacts. We will continually monitor and update our policy as needed.

When we introduce our updated Human Rights Policy in December, considerable efforts will be focused on its dissemination within the Company and the Coca-Cola System including through translations into relevant languages, videos, and leadership messages. This policy reflects our values as a Company and we take this seriously; this is who we are. We remain dedicated to building a human rights program that incorporates accountability, transparency and helps to ensure positive impacts for employees, customers, consumers and the communities where we operate, and thereby contributes to the growth of the business.