"And if we believe we are good at it, we must think again", said Eldar Sætre, CEO of Equinor to 550 business students at the annual Thorolf Rafto Challenge in Bergen.
Each year, the Rafto Foundation and the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), challenge Norwegian business leaders to share information about human rights dilemmas they face in their value chains.
With images of NHH professor Thorolf Rafto displayed in the background, the leader of the major Norwegian energy company with more than 20,000 employees in more than 30 countries, shared Equinor’s experiences when it comes to promoting and respecting human rights.
People is key
"Respecting human rights is not only the right thing to do — from an ethical perspective, but it is also crucial to our long-term existence. We must not only respect, we should also promote these rights — within the context of our operations. It is a prerequisite for being an attractive employer, a desired investment proposition, and a profitable business", Sætre said in his keynote speech.
Sætre also stressed the importance of the ability to empower people.
“The people are those affected by operations and throughout the supply chains. We have to ask ourselves constantly; do we as leaders provide people with equal opportunities? Does each of us refrain from biased comments to colleagues? Do we uphold the same standards in everything we do? Diversity of thought, background and ideas ensures better decisions. And there will be no diversity, unless it is based on respect for and inclusion of people. It enhances innovation and inspires us to find better solutions to complex problems”.
Stay or leave?
It is not a secret that Equinor operates in countries where we see examples of human rights violations. One of the key questions among the audience is why they choose to do so? Why did Equinor decide to uphold its operations in Venezuela, despite the country’s political crisis and international sanctions?
"If we believe we can uphold our commitments, by demonstrating good practices of a socially responsible company – we can stay. But at the same time, we cannot take on the responsibility of others. That is not our responsibility as a company. Not by law. Nor under the UN Guiding Principles. It is — and must remain, the states’ primary responsibility — to protect human rights. But: when we do decide to enter a country – or to stay in a country, it is not only because we want to pursue good business opportunities. We also want to contribute positively, to the development of people, communities and society at large – and always with respect for human rights"
"In Equinor, we define human rights risk in accordance with the UN guiding principles — as risk to people"
Can always do better
Equinor is one of the first global companies that became a member of The UN Global Compact. They were also one of the first companies to implement the UN Guiding Principles. However, he underlines that they still have a lot to learn and can do better.
“As a large player in the industry, we can lead the way. But we must always strive to improve. And if we believe are good at it, we must think again", Sætre concludes.
Building awareness and capacity
The Business and Human Rights Programme is one of Rafto Foundation’s core activities and is established to promote corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and to build capacity among students, business and human rights defenders. The Thorolf Rafto Challenge is also part of the Ethics and Economics course at NHH. Previous participants include grocery retail giant NorgesGruppen, the Norwegian football club "SK Brann", the communications company Telenor and fertilizer giant Yara.
“We have established this platform to challenge the business leaders, but not with the aim of shaming. It is important to talk and be open about human rights dilemmas and lessons learned, says Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt, Executive Director at The Rafto Foundation.
The complete lecture from CEO Eldar Sætre is available on Equinor's website: here