GRI Updates to Universal Standards Emphasize Human Rights Reporting

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) recently published its revised Universal Standards, which go into effect on January 1, 2023. The revision will require all companies reporting in accordance with GRI standards to report on human rights impacts and due diligence obligations. Some companies are already required to report on such human rights impacts under modern slavery legislation like the U.K. Modern Slavery Act or Australia Modern Slavery Act. Under the revised standards, any company reporting in accordance with GRI standards will need to report on human rights impacts regardless of whether they are subject to other human rights reporting regimes.  

GRI explains that “human rights is a subject area, like the environment, and it covers more than 30 specific subjects, as established by authoritative intergovernmental instruments. . . [the update] require[s] all organizations to report basic information on how they meet their responsibility to respect human rights.” GRI’s revision also integrates the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) into the Universal Standards and expressly includes human rights as a General Disclosure topic, which is a level of reporting intended to give insight into an organization’s size and profile to better understand the context surrounding the organization’s impact. Previously, human rights were considered a “Social Topic” where companies were only required to report on the topic if the company determined it to be material. Under the revision, human rights is now considered a material topic, meaning that companies are expected to report on their impacts on human rights.

In addition to updating its Universal Standards, GRI also unveiled its first GRI Sector Standard focused on oil and gas which would be used by industry players to “focus their reporting on the issues that matter most within their sectors.” 39 other sector-specific standards will be developed by GRI in the future, with agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing expected to come next.

Beveridge & Diamond’s Sustainability, ESG and Product Stewardship, Global Supply Chains practices advise companies on all aspects of sustainable supply chain and product stewardship management, including responsible sourcing, human rights due diligence and disclosures, product compliance, and reuse and recycling. We help the legal, corporate, communications, and environmental, health, and safety teams at large and small companies to identify, understand, and comply with the complex regulatory requirements impacting the hyper-competitive and evolving consumer goods market. For more information, please contact the authors.