Segregating Disability in Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting – GRI’s Failure to Include Disability

By Catia Malaquias

Companies have generally taken a narrow, compliance-driven approach to disability – when it is recognised (which it often isn’t) in operational policies, it is as a non-discrimination (‘exception report’) matter driven by the need to comply with legislative non-discrimination requirements – which are themselves weak and poorly enforced.

It remains rare for companies to collect specific disability-related information that can be used to measure impact of a company’s policies on disability inclusion in the workforce, suppliers, service providers – and the general realisation of the human rights of people with disability.

Corporate social reporting provides an alternate and broader corporate platform for promoting disability inclusion and realising the human rights of people with disability in the commercial and workforce contexts.

Over 10,000 companies worldwide use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards (previously known as the GRI G4 Guidelines) for non-financial sustainability or corporate social responsibility reporting. The GRI Standards are the leading and most generally-used international standards for such reporting.  GRI is based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Disability-related impacts of a company’s operations were not expressly included in the GRI G4 Guidelines.  In a 2015 publication entitled ‘Disability in Sustainability Reporting’ produced by GRI together with Fundacion ONCE (a Spanish based disability inclusion organisation), GRI stated at page 2:

“Disability will be considered by GRI’s governance bodies for inclusion in future updates to the GRI Guidelines.  In the meantime, we hope that organisations will make use of this guide and integrate disability-related information into their reports and public disclosures.”

At the time Fundacion ONCE stated at page 3 of the 2016 publication:

“Fundacion ONCE greatly values GRI’s commitment to mainstream key disability issues in its Guidelines and anticipates that the publication of this document will be a first step … .”

In 2019, after not including disability-related impacts into its transitioning of the GRI G4 Guidelines to the GRI Standards, GRI together with Fundacion ONCE re-issued the ‘Disability in Sustainability Reporting – Document finalised in January 2019’ publication – this time GRI expressed no intention of including disability in a future update of the GRI Standards – and explained that the re-issue of the ‘practical document’ was prompted by the GRI’s subsequent transition from the G4 Guidelines to the Standards and the launch of the United Nation’s global 2030 agenda for development, including the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), a number of which expressly include disability-related goals.

In 2020, GRI embarked upon its GRI Universal Standards Project and revision of its Human Rights related Standard.  The exposure drafts of the Universal Standards and Human Rights Standard do not propose to expressly include disability-related impacts.

By submission dated September 2020, Fundacion ONCE (at page 4) called on GRI to:

“… consider a wider approach on diversity by following the Guide on ‘Disability in Sustainability Reporting’ in the review of the GRI’s Universal Standards and Human Rights related GRI Standards”; and

“take advantage and integrate the work done in the past related to the disability dimension in sustainability reporting.  We urge GRI to consider different suggestions [on how the GRI Standards] can be [expressly] extended to include disability by following the Guide … .”

Fundacion ONCE sought that the GRI Standards, including the proposed Universal Standards as well as certain topic specific Standards, be amended consistent with the revised 2019 joint publication to expressly refer to positive and negative disability-impacts (including on the human rights of people with disability), for example, relating to:

  • their activities, value and supply chains, and business relationships;
  • their workforce, including training and hiring policies;
  • their governance structures and composition;
  • their contracting and marketing practices.

By document dated 5 October 2021 and entitled ‘Summary of Public Comments on the Exposure Draft of the Standards, and GSSB Responses’, GRI through the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) did not raise Fundacion ONCE’s request, let alone provide a response.

The GRI/GSSB work program for 2022 and the foreseeable future does not include any consideration of express inclusion of disability-related impacts into the GRI Universal or topic-specific Standards.

There are parallels between GRI’s effective segregation of disability-related impacts into a separate ‘practical document’ that does not form part of the ‘mainstream’ GRI Standards and the unwillingness of the institutional systems to include people with disability (for example the ‘mainstream’ education system’s reluctance to include students with disability as opposed to segregating students in ‘special’ schools and units).

Placing ‘disability-impact’ reporting alongside but outside of the GRI Standards, in a ‘practical’ and unofficial guidance document, does not send the message, let alone a requirement, for companies to consider and report on material disability-related impacts (positive or negative).

Further, it is somewhat perverse for GRI to somehow seek to justify the 2019 re-issue of the ‘practical document’ because the SDGs specifically refer to disability in respect of numerous goals.  The SDGs have expressly given prominence to disability inclusion-related goals whilst GRI is essentially, through the ‘practical document’, keeping the GRI Standards ‘disability-impact’ silent.

The reality is that the explicit inclusion of ‘disability-impacts’ in the GRI Standards will go a long way towards prompting companies to consider and report ‘disability-impacts’ – silence will not – no matter how informative the ‘practical’ unofficial guide outside the Standards.  Further, it is clear from Fundacion ONCE’s submission that they share the concern that until disability-impacts are expressly included in the GRI Standards that such impacts will continue to be, at best, marginalised by the corporate sector.

The revised Universal Standards and Human Rights Standard have now been presented to the GSSB for endorsement and implementation by 1 January 2023.  GRI, through the GSSB, must provide greater corporate reporting leadership on disability.

By contrast, as reported in a Forbes article titled ‘How Business Leaders Are Introducing Disability Rights As A CSR Issue’, in 2019 the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wrote to 49 company presidents in New York State’s pension portfolio (including Apple, Nike and Twentieth Century Fox) asking each to measure and report on disability inclusion using a disability inclusion benchmark tool.  As the overseer of the third largest pension fund in the US, DeNapoli announced:

“From pushing corporations on labor rights, on the need for there to be more women on corporate boards, on LGBTQ non-discrimination, on the environment and climate change, on executive compensation, on disclosure of corporate political spending, New York will have the most robust corporate engagement initiatives of any state fund … we are starting 2019 with a new effort to press corporate America to have clear policies on disability inclusion.”

Corporate social reporting guidelines, such as the GRI Standards, must themselves explicitly include disability-specific considerations and guidelines for companies, or they themselves will fail to be disability-inclusive and will simply serve to perpetuate and entrench the continued marginalisation of people with disability by the corporate sector – and society.

[Cover photo © Call Me Fred]

Thank you for visiting our website.  You can also keep up with our mission for #edinclusion by liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter @StartingWJulius