Novartis maintains a strong commitment to upholding and respecting human rights. In the Novartis Code of Ethics, we commit to “conduct our business in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of all people.” In 2021, we adopted our Human Rights Commitment Statement, endorsed by the executive-level Novartis Trust & Reputation Committee. This is the latest update to our human rights statement, first adopted in 2003.
Our Human Rights Commitment Statement establishes our foundational commitment to the International Bill of Human Rights, ILO Core Labor Conventions, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
It also explains the 12 human rights focus areas we’ve identified and outlines our 3-pillar approach to embedding human rights throughout our business.
Our human rights focus areas
In 2020, our CEO became the first pharmaceutical CEO to sign the CEO Guide to Human Rights developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Governance & strategy
In 2021, the Human Rights program was integrated into the Ethics & Compliance team in the Ethics, Risk, and Compliance (ERC) function. The ERC function is led by the Chief Ethics, Risk, and Compliance Officer, who sits on the Executive Committee of Novartis (ECN).
Our Human Rights Commitment Statement explains our 12 human rights focus areas and is based on four years of targetted human rights due diligence across the company. We refreshed our human rights strategy with a targetted, risk-based approach to managing human rights, and provide a framework to track our progress implementing the UNGPs.
How we deliver on our commitments
Human rights in the supply chain and modern slavery
We continue to take steps to prevent modern slavery in our operations and supply chains. We publish an annual statement explaining how we address modern slavery risks or impacts and have developed an e-learning module on modern slavery.
As we expand our efforts to protect human rights, we plan to conduct broader and more frequent consultations with patient groups, local communities, health authorities and supply chain partners throughout our operations. This will help us benchmark our efforts, measure our progress, and fulfill our ambition to become a leader in the healthcare sector for respecting and protecting the rights of people affected by our or our suppliers’ operations.
Strategic projects and initiatives
We are implementing several projects across our strategic human rights priorities.
Embedding human rights into policies
In line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Novartis is embedding human rights in our business in several ways:
Novartis Third Party Code
Human rights is now a central element of our Novartis Third Party Code revised in 2020. The code encourages third parties to implement the UN Guiding Principles and contains important requirements regarding overtime hours, pay, and respect for community rights.
Diversity & Inclusion
We are working with our Diversity & Inclusion team to review policies affecting LGBTQI+ associates, with the objective to identify and close gaps from a human rights standpoint.
We are supporting the development of the first Novartis global strategy on disability inclusion to ensure a human rights based approach guides the design and implementation of this strategy (i.e. engaging with rights-holders throughout the process, viewing risk from a rights-holder perspective, adressing all forms of disability).
Training and capacity building
We continue to develop and roll out training on human rights for associates. We work with associates who are confronted with our most important issues to develop the content of our training modules. Highlights include:
We delivered a workshop for our global Third Party Labor Rights managers to explain the four core ILO labor rights and how they apply to our business.
Human rights ambassador network
We established this network within the Ethics, Risk, and Compliance (ERC) function to build capacity among associates across markets on issue identification and analysis from a human rights perspective.
We developed an online training for procurement, ERC, and associates in the UK and Australia (where modern slavery reporting is legally required).
Human rights due diligence and assessments
Since 2017, we have completed eight market assessments which have led to the identification of high priority human rights issues across the business. We also started to conduct narrower product and service assessments covering raw material inputs into our products, clinical trial policies and processes, and our central employee grievance mechanism.
Our 2018 assessments revealed the need to help put formal grievance mechanisms and processes in place for communities living close to our manufacturing operations. With this in mind, we have conducted a gap analysis of our Group-wide grievance system against the effectiveness criteria of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
In 2019, we redesigned our human rights assessment program to include direct engagement with suppliers, communities and civil society actors. For instance, our assessments in India, Singapore, Brazil and China included supplier site visits as well as interviews with communities surrounding our or our suppliers’ operations, and relevant nongovernmental organizations.
Novartis is engaged in several collaborative efforts to advance human rights in the healthcare sector and across industries.
Novartis holds several leadership positions in the PSCI, including:
- Chair of the PSCI Board (2018-2019)
- Co-chair of the Human Rights & Labor (HRL) subcommittee
- Chair of the Partnership Committee
- Our Chief Ethics, Risk and Compliance Officer has been nominated to the PSCI External Advisory Committee
Novartis has spearheaded several human rights projects and activities in the PSCI:
- Initiated a project in the Partnerships Committee to mobilize collective PSCI action to contribute to the State of Telangana’s Musi River Revitalization Initiative in Hyderabad, India.
- Mobilized a coalition of members in the HRL subcommittee to investigate collective action options to address the allegations of forced labor in the carnauba wax supply chain.
- Led the development of human rights and modern slavery training for PSCI members, and for the annual pharmaceutical supplier conferences in China and India.
- Participated in an HRL working group to jointly investigate common raw material inputs into pharmaceutical products that potentially present increased human rights risk.
Novartis has participated in BSR’s cross-industry Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) since 2018, and hosted the autumn meeting in 2019 on the Basel campus. The HRWG provides a platform for sharing cross-industry best practices and for identifying emerging business and human rights issues.
Codes, policies and resources
We are embedding human rights into all relevant Novartis policies and procedures.