Retailer S-Group was featured in a study on how Finnish companies are fulfilling their human rights responsibilities in practice.
The research was carried out by the Status of Human Rights Performance of Finnish Companies), a project funded by the Finnish government.
The study found that while most Finnish companies are generally committed to respecting human rights, only a quarter of them systematically and publicly assess the impact of their business activities on the realisation of human rights.
“The situation clearly leaves room for improvement,” said project lead Nikodemus Solitander, “but the state of implementation of the human rights responsibilities of Finnish companies is largely at the same level as was found in the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark’s global assessments.
“The results of the new study suggest that continuous monitoring has a significant impact on the realisation of responsibilities in practice. It is also important for companies to place greater emphasis on human rights issues at the level of strategy and management.”
The assessment focused on 78 Finnish companies. Of these, 29 were assessed using the sector-specific Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) methodology and 49 according to the indicators set in the UN Guiding Principles (UNGP). While the average score was 24.8 points, S-Group received 40.8 points out of 100.
“At S-Group, we have worked for a long time to ensure the realisation of human rights and responsible procurement operations,” said Sanni Martikainen, corporate responsibility manager at S-Group. “We are glad that our systematic work human rights work shows in the results of the assessment.
“The study gives us valuable information about development areas. We continue to promote human rights and equal opportunities, and these themes are also emphasised in our updated responsibility programme.”
The retailer’s human rights practices are guided by a set of human rights principles, under which it also examines labour conditions and assesses supplier performance through third party audits.
The group’s annual responsibility report also provides information about its key procurement countries, audit results, the coverage of certificates and any activities carried out during the year regarding human rights.
Any suspicions of misuse and unethical activities can be reported through S-Group’s whistleblowing channel to have these suspicions investigated.
S-Group also developed a Radical transparency research model, which examines the root causes of human rights issues and is used in parallel with social audits at production facilities. The first study was carried in 2019 and it explored the production of tinned tomatoes in Italy. The research found elements of forced labour, poor housing conditions and excessive working hours.
Some of the findings were presented during a webinar organised by International Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank in December 2020 to mark International Human Rights Day.
Nina Elomaa, senior vice president for Sustainability explained during the event that as a single co-operative, S-Group is limited in what it can achieve. She said the group would be looking to engage in advocacy efforts for legal recruitment channels for migrant workers and will continue to listen to workers and train and monitor and collaborate with suppliers. Similar issues occur in other European countries, thus international collaboration is needed to address the issue, added Ms Elomaa.
While based in Finland, S-Group has businesses in Estonia, and Russia as well. In September 2020 the Estonian Human Rights Centre and the country’s Ministry of Social Affairs awarded AS Prisma Peremarket, which operates S-Group’s Prisma stores in Estonia, for promoting diversity and building a community spirit while respecting differences.