Fact Sheet #23a) Human Rights Roles and Responsibilities Understood

Level 4

Element: Leadership and Accountability

Outcome 23: Human rights roles and responsibilities are understood and are acted upon throughout the organization.

Indicator 23a): Human rights concepts and principles are incorporated in day-to-day activities and staff routinely engages in behaviours that foster human rights, dignity and equity in the workplace.

Possible Measures and Data Sources:

  • Clear requirement in procedures manuals that employees who serve the general public must consider clients’ special needs.
  • Inclusion of human rights in surveys to measure change in behaviours.
  • Inclusion of human rights principles in organization’s Code of Conduct and/or the code of Values and Ethics.
  • Evidence that employees who serve the general public must consider clients’ special needs.

Indicator Description

Incorporating human rights concepts and principles into day-to-day activities means that each individual in the organization adheres to corporate culture in which: people are treated with dignity, respect and fairness; where harassment and discrimination are not tolerated; where individuals are encouraged to take action and be creative when resolving problems; and where self-awareness and personal accountability are expected.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat establishes the values and ethics code for the Public Service of Canada. 

In the private sector/corporate world, businesses operate according to their company’s business ethics and corporate values. These ethics and values guide persons within the organization in the performance of their duties and fulfilling their responsibilities.

At Level 2 (see Fact Sheet #6b)) the inclusion of the responsibility for human rights issues in performance accords for human resources professionals, or other similar resource persons in the workplace, highlights the importance of human resources professional’s knowledge of human rights in building a human rights culture.  At Level 3 of maturity (see Fact Sheet #14a)), the organization will notice a shift from Human Resources being the primary ‘holder’ of all matters that fall within the human rights spectra to an environment where all management is held responsible for human rights within the organization. 

At Level 4 each employee’s performance agreement can reflect how he/she can contribute to the organization’s overall results, given the nature of his or her responsibilities in the organization. 

Suggested Approach 

One way or another, explicitly or implicitly, every organization communicates its values, acceptable decision-making, and its expectations of employee behaviour. Organizations that realize the importance and benefits of explicitly communicating their values and guiding principles incorporate them in a published code of conduct or ethics. Such a code deals with an organization’s underlying values, commitment to employees, and standards for doing business, and its relationship with wider society: 

  • Organizations can create an effective code of conduct that includes:
    • An Organization’s Mission.
    • A Statement from the Chief Executive Officer and/or board of directors.
    • Organizational values and principles.
    • A statement(s) on how the entity relates to its community, the environment and society.
    • Ethical and conduct guidelines and guidance on practices.
    • Examples of ethical and unethical behaviour.
    • Specific rules of conduct.
    • Commitment to and information on performance evaluation. [1]
  • Procedures, Work Descriptions and Standards:
    • Procedures are in place to guide employees, who serve the public, so they are aware of clients’ special needs.
    • Operating standards in service to the public reflect a human rights perspective. These in turn are reflected in employees’ performance agreements.
    • Develop and implement a Respectful Workplace Policy in line with the Code of Conduct.
    • Establish and implement procedures to address violations of respectful workplace policy.
    • Implement a communication plan to increase employee awareness of diversity and inclusion goals, expectations, roles and performance measurement.
    • Implement an education and training plan. [2] 
    • The objective of any individual performance agreement and appraisal process will align the efforts of staff and management to achieve organizational priorities and goals, and to encourage workplace behaviour that supports the organization’s values. In the organization that is maturing from a human rights point of view, those values will in turn support a human rights culture.
  •  Suggested Measures to Monitor/Evaluate the Effectiveness of Programs:
    • Surveys of staff morale/attitudes towards the work environment.
    • Increases in promotion levels for minority employees.
    • Reduction in turnover of minority employees.
    • Other (includes recruitment statistics for minority employees and reduction in the number of harassment suits).
    • Improvements in productivity.

To embed the code in performance measurement, annual compliance sign-offs, periodic internal audits, and regular performance reviews would be conducted.

Promising Practices

“Be a leader yourself, for every leaders starts by first leading himself.”

- Norman Bethune

  • Implementing a diversity and inclusion framework: 
    • One city in Canada did this by defining the roles of the council, the city manager, the senior management team, departmental management team, supervisors, employees,the human resources branch, and communication with regard to inclusion and diversity in its Diversity and Inclusion Framework.  One of the goals of a supervisor is “using the supervisors’ inclusion lens to identify systemic barriers that exist in employment practices and suggesting ways to address these barriers”. [3] For an employee an example is “demonstrating behaviours consistent with diversity and inclusion values specified in the Diversity and Inclusion Framework…”
  • Developing a diversity task force:
    • At a leading research and manufacturing company of quality health-care and consumer products, a Diversity Task Force was established. Its mission was to ensure that the culture of the company supports the company’s commitment to its colleagues, especially in the areas of diversity and human rights. It focused on increasing awareness of human rights by developing a Human Rights Code for the company.
  • Making diversity and inclusion part of each day’s activities:
    • In 1989 one financial institution made a commitment to build a new organization with a vision where diversity and equality were intrinsic elements of day-to-day work informing and influencing every business decision. In a series of focus groups in 1993 nearly four in five employees indicated they felt the bank was making progress towards creating a workplace in which all employees are valued and treated with respect.
  • Developing a Diversity and Positive Workplace strategy:
    • One city in Canada developed an office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights whose purpose is to: provide expert advice and corporate programs consistent with legislative requirements to the City Manager and Council; align and implement key corporate, divisional and community equity, diversity and human rights initiatives to achieve service excellence; administer human rights and service delivery complaints processes; and ensure the City's services, programs and policies are responsive to the needs of the city’s communities.

Useful links and tools

Diversity & Inclusion Framework and Implementation PlanCity of Edmonton

Diversity and Positive Workplace Strategy, City of Toronto, Toronto Public Service, People Plan 2010-2012 (explains how the city developed a diversity and positive workplace strategy). 


Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations, June 2007 Professional Accountants in Business Committee; International Federation of Accountants. 

Diversity & Inclusion Framework and Implementation Plan, City of Edmonton

[1] Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations, June 2007 Professional Accountants in Business Committee; International Federation of Accountants.

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