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Social 16 June 2021

"A decade to put human rights on corporate strategic agendas"

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the framework for managing the impact of business on fundamental rights. Much has happened since Professor John Ruggie developed these principles.

Antoni Ballabriga (Global Head Sustainability Intelligence & Advocacy at BBVA)

On the one hand, we are seeing how companies are becoming activists by joining global movements for non-discrimination such as Black Lives Matter or "I can't breathe", the last three words uttered by George Floyd that revived this movement. We have also seen how the so-called fourth generation rights linked to new technologies have become increasingly relevant. We are all familiar with cases where advanced analytics and artificial intelligence pose real challenges to business activity. As a result, we are seeing more and more self-regulatory initiatives by some companies in anticipation of what is starting to come via regulation in some jurisdictions. Not to mention the quantum leap made in Europe in relation to data protection with the GDPR.

But the changes do not stop there. Who could have imagined just a few weeks ago that Shell, one of the largest energy companies in the world, would be "condemned" to set more ambitious decarbonisation targets under the umbrella of human rights.

The world is changing fast: an increasingly demanding society, growing regulatory pressure, increasingly global and interdependent environmental and social challenges. All this leads to a greater need for companies to regain their social credibility, always developing their activities with the aim of generating a positive impact on the lives of people, companies and society as a whole.

We need to build a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable society together

That is why today, ten years later, human rights management has become part of the strategic agenda of companies. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are more relevant than ever. These principles are based on three pillars: the duty of States to protect these rights; the responsibility of companies to respect them; and access to redress mechanisms, all the while placing due diligence processes as a fundamental element for their complete integration in companies.

At BBVA we are committed to human rights as one of the four general principles of our Corporate Social Responsibility Policy, approved by the Board of Directors. In 2017 we carried out our first due diligence process, which allowed us to promote action plans to strengthen our management framework. This was a great learning process that more and more companies are now embracing, and we encourage many more to do the same. Because human rights impact management not only enables companies to better manage their risks, but also helps us to genuinely deliver on our promise and be true to all our stakeholders.

Together we need to build a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable society. Corporate management of the impact on fundamental rights must be at the heart of this transformation much needed by the world in which we live and that we are going to leave to future generations.