A commitment to human rights

By Robyn Luhning
June 16th, 2014
Alejandro Hernandez

Alejandro Hernandez

Dear Forum Readers,

Please welcome Alejandro Hernandez, who led Wells Fargo’s effort to publish the company’s human rights statement last year. He shares with our readers a bit of history related to companies and their respect for human rights, and how this influenced Wells Fargo’s movement to formalize a statement articulating our company’s approach. At first glance, human rights may not appear to fit squarely in an environmental forum, but we see important links between human rights and environmental stewardship. (RL)

Eleanor Roosevelt — who chaired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting committee following the Second World War — noted that human rights begin in the “world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

The blurring of the lines between public and private, personal and professional, and local and global in the 21st century have made first lady Roosevelt’s vision even more prophetic. Her words also emphasize the need for collaborative approaches to addressing human rights around the world. While protecting human rights has been and continues to be the domain of governments, respecting human rights has increasingly become a responsibility encouraged/enforced by the private sector.

Respect is woven into the history of Wells Fargo. As far back as 1888, our instructions to our team members were clear: “The most polite and gentlemanly treatment of all customers, however insignificant their business, is insisted upon. Proper respect must be shown to all —let them be men, women or children, rich or poor, white or black — it must not be forgotten that the Company is dependent on these same people for its business.”

Last year, we took another important step in embedding respect for human rights into our history by publishing our first human rights statement. Many of the concepts in this statement are familiar to Wells Fargo customers, team members and the communities we serve. That is because our responsibility to respect human rights — which includes consistent treatment among people, employee well-being and security, economic and social freedom, and environmental stewardship — is part of our culture and is reflected in our Vision and Values statement. This became quickly evident to the group of subject matter experts from across the company that came together to evaluate our practices in these areas – leading us to ultimately develop the statement.

Nonetheless, these experts and as well our as senior leaders recognize that respecting human rights is a continuing effort, and this latest statement of our policies and approaches was valuable in light of changing global policies and business practices.

In assessing the value of our human rights statement, it is essential to keep in mind that it is only as good as the people who live by it. Eleanor Roosevelt’s admonition to think about human rights on individual and local terms; in one’s neighborhood, one’s school as well as one’s place of employment is an important one. It is notable that she followed that comment with the statement: “Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

Alejandro Hernandez develops approaches to help Wells Fargo enhance its social responsibility initiatives in the United States and markets around the world. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social responsibility and sustainable communities at Western Kentucky University and has been active in a number of global initiatives with the YMCA including providing technical assistance to the YMCA d’Haiti.

Tags:   employee   human rights   
Robyn Luhning

Robyn Luhning

Robyn is head of Wells Fargo’s Environmental and Social Risk Management and works with a broad range of internal business groups and external stakeholders to promote responsible ways of doing business together with our business customers. Her work has covered all angles of sustainability strategy, including managing relationships with socially responsible investor groups; leading multi-function, multi-level teams to define company sustainability priorities and goals; and corporate responsibility communications planning and execution.

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