Closing the Gap Between Corporate Human Rights Policy and Human Rights Due Diligence Implementation: A Qualitative Case Study on the Change Management Required to Implement HRDD

Cora Birkkjær & Mujgahn Rahimi

Student thesis: Master thesis


Despite corporate membership in the UN Global Compact exceeding 10,000, a significant gap remains between the public commitment of corporations to the Ten Principles of the Compact and the actual implementation of their human rights commitments into business activities and modes of operation. The aim of this study is to address this challenge and contribute to the academic conversation on business and human rights by investigating the change management required for a company to progress from a human rights policy to human rights due diligence implementation through a novel combination of the Five E framework and Strategic Communication at the intra-organizational level. This specific combination of theories allows us to move from the abstract, normative level of guidance currently provided for businesses, to a more concrete, operational level guidance. The research is based on an in-depth qualitative study of a case company in the pharmaceutical industry. Data collection is based on four comprehensive interviews with the case company’s Director of Global Sustainability, which are transcribed, coded and analyzed using first and second-cycle coding. Findings show that the change management process required to progress from adopting a human rights policy to human rights due diligence implementation can be explained by specifically applying the three Es of engagement, explanation and expectation of the Five E framework, in combination with Strategic Communication. While constituting critical steps towards generating acceptance to change, these Es pose several communicative challenges. Strategic Communication is valuable as a communicative tool to overcome these challenges. More specifically, the findings demonstrate that for the communicative aspect of engagement, explanation and expectation setting to reach their objective, they need to be based on an argumentative strategy in the form of system-specific language combined with stabilizing and de-stabilization arguments. Thus, the application of the three Es through Strategic Communication generates the acceptance necessary for implementing human rights due diligence. Accordingly, this study provides an operational model for companies to apply as a tool to successfully progress from a human rights policy to the implementation of human rights due diligence, enabling them to avoid the negative consequences of failing to respect human rights, including economic costs and loss of their social license to operate. Furthermore, findings can be used by the UN Global Compact to revise their guidance and frameworks to take into account the communicative intricacies of the change management required to implement human rights due diligence.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages120
SupervisorsKarin Buhmann