Human rights

The effects of COVID-19 around the world brought a new reality and meant there were other potential human rights issues we needed to address. As a result, and in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles to continuously assess a company’s salient human rights issues, we finalized our second in-depth salient human rights issues assessment. While we respect all human rights equally, we prioritized certain issues based on their severity and likelihood. These were established following internal data analysis, external trends and engagement with our stakeholders. For example, we held two (digital) workshops in China and India with external stakeholders, including NGO representatives and human rights experts.

Our salient human rights issues remain much the same, although we better understand in which part(s) of the value chain the highest risks could occur, and which ones will shape our main focus. For example, “Negative impact on local communities” is now a stand-alone issue instead of a sub-issue under Health and Safety (the negative impacts can be broader than just health and safety). Our next steps include assessing our human rights initiatives and addressing them together with AkzoNobel’s other functions and businesses. We’ve also created a new, more diverse Human Rights Committee, with a more robust governance (see Integrity and compliance management), and updated our human rights position statement.

Guy painting wall in Port Moresby, Papua Guinea. Back View (photo)
Guy painting wall in Port Moresby, Papua Guinea. Front View (photo)

With the help of our Taubmans brand, a sprawling wall in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, was completely transformed. The 100-meter-long concrete surface was brought to life by 13 AkzoNobel volunteers and 25 young people we trained in the local community. They used 212 liters of paint during the “Let’s Colour” project, creating a colorful mural with modern, traditional and cultural motifs.

Health and safety

Our top priority is the safety of our people, those we work with and those who our products are offered to. This means we carry out due diligence on thousands of raw materials – some of which are high risk – looking at how they can impact our people, our sites and the communities around them. In 2021, building on the existing Priority Substances Program and extending the focus to other sustainability-related raw material topics, we initiated the Raw Material Sustainability Group (RMSG).

Working conditions

We take our commitment to providing good working conditions seriously, both for our employees and those visiting our sites. For example, we’re introducing our own Global Working Hours standard, ensuring that everywhere in the world, we’re working a safe number of hours, even if local laws allow people to work longer. We’re also reinforcing our efforts to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene assessments and audits into our Health, Safety and Security suite to ensure good sanitary conditions, the importance of which has been re-emphasized by COVID-19.

Salient human rights issues

 

Upstream supply chain

Own operations

Logistics

Downstream (customers, end users)

Health and safety

Working conditions

Discrimination and harassment

 

 

 

Negative impacts on local communities

 

 

Modern slavery

 

 

Discrimination and harassment

Everyone should be comfortable in their working environment and feel they’re treated with dignity and respect. In 2021, we signed up to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. Our plans for the immediate future include rolling out a global “trusted person” network, which involves having a trusted person at each location with over 100 employees. We’re also aiming for at least 90% of online employees to complete inclusive behavior training and 70% of sites to have run our inclusive behavior workshop.

Impact on local communities

We aim to be a good neighbor and contribute to the well-being of communities. We work closely with local neighborhoods to manage the social impact of our business activities, address any concerns about our operations and enhance the benefits we’re able to bring. We’re currently conducting due diligence into our sites to identify where we have risks in order to address any possible negative impact.

Modern slavery

We have zero tolerance for modern slavery, such as child or forced labor, and conduct relevant due diligence into our high risk supply chains. In 2021, we conducted in-depth research into our raw materials portfolio and added barytes, calcium carbonate, copper, fluorspar and talcum to our human rights due diligence in the supply chain. These were added to cobalt, mica minerals and tin, which were already in scope. We’ve surveyed all suppliers that directly, or indirectly, supply us these materials. By the end of the year, we had an 85% response rate. For cobalt and tin, we surveyed all 132 identified suppliers, using templates from the Responsible Minerals Initiative. Of those suppliers who confirmed using high risk materials necessary for the functionality of the product, 90% disclosed their smelters. In total, 87% of these smelters were either listed as active or conformant smelters in the Responsible Minerals Assurance Process. Suppliers with a “conflict-free statement”, but who didn’t disclose the smelters in their supply chain, haven’t been included, since our due diligence is based on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains. For the other materials, a third party sent out surveys to 180 suppliers to increase transparency of these supply chains. The results gave us further insight into our supply chain complexity and risks. We can now set up new actions, such as planning mine audits where insufficient controls seem to be in place.

Note: Not all of these goods are purchased directly, but are contained in the raw materials we buy.

Membership of Responsible Mica Initiative formalized

MICA logo (logo)

Towards the end of the year, we formalized our partnership with the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI), having been one of the founders when it was launched in 2017. The RMI’s mission is to establish a fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chain in India that’s free of child labor by 2030.

Used in a wide range of industries, mica minerals are mined extensively in India, where a variety of factors contribute to poor working conditions, including the use of child labor. Our leverage to change the situation is somewhat limited, due to our position in the supply chain – several steps away from the mica mines and processing units – and the relatively small amount of indirect mica sourcing.

Rather than deciding to stop sourcing products that contain mica from India – thereby eliminating the risk of indirectly sourcing products containing mica mined and processed under poor working conditions – we opted to increase our leverage through our RMI membership and do our utmost to bring about change.

Following the RMI’s pilot year, we continued to focus on the issue and a commitment was made to conduct serious due diligence and look for creative ways to contribute to the initiative – which has now resulted in full membership.

“Formalizing our membership demonstrates that we take our responsibility to respect human rights across our value chain very seriously and we’re determined to be part of the solution,” says Anja Verbeke, AkzoNobel’s Global Director of Integrity and Compliance.

AkzoNobel closely monitors how mica is sourced and works hard to ensure that the supply chain which uses the mineral is made transparent, traceable and sustainable.