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Social sustainability and human capital IOSH policy position

Organisations cannot be sustainable in the current world of work without committing to protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of their most vital resource: workers. Socially sustainable organisations are those that recognise and prioritise the adoption of a holistic person-centred approach to everything they do. They recognise the value of their workers, treat them as an asset and invest in them. This includes the creation of conditions to promote decent work for their workers – their human capital – which underpins corporate performance and sustainability.

A human-centred purpose embraces the interplay of social sustainability, thoughtful human capital management and a comprehensive set of employee safety, health and wellbeing practices. Companies driven by this approach are more capable of producing lasting value, profit, stronger performance, growth and sustainable workforces.

The facts

  • The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including SDG 8 on decent work – recognise the importance of human capital in building a fairer, more sustainable and resilient world of work.
  • The United Nations Global Compact initiative is the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, with more than 9,500 companies and 3,000 non-business signatories based in over 160 countries, and more than 60 Local Networks.
  • BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, in its 2020 Engagement priorities outlines how boards need to oversee human capital management strategies.
  • A CIPD study of people risk and workforce reporting by UK FTSE 100 organisations showed that workforce data is missing from corporate reports. Follow-up research found limited knowledge among investors on human capital data and how it may impact on firm performance.

Our position

In the current world of work, organisations cannot be sustainable without protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of their most vital resource: workers. Socially sustainable organisations are those that prioritise the adoption of a person-centred approach to everything they do. They treat employees as an asset and create the conditions to promote decent work, where human capital underpins corporate performance and sustainability.

A human -centred purpose embraces the interplay of social sustainability, thoughtful human capital management and a comprehensive set of employee safety, health and wellbeing practices – all critical components of a robust human capital management strategy. Companies driven by such an approach are more capable of producing lasting value, profit and sustainable workforces.

Global corporate interest in the strategic linkage between occupational safety and health and human capital management has gained traction in recent years. There is an impetus from key stakeholders – capital markets, civil society, employers, occupational safety and health and human resources professional bodies – in social responsibility issues. They are interested in elevating worker-centred policies and systems, which see workers as a vital asset and therefore material to organisational success, resilience and sustainability.

IOSH believes that social sustainability is the backbone of resilience, and that occupational safety and health is fundamental to building and maintaining work, workforces, supply chains and communities that are all sustainable for the future. Businesses should put people first and recognise the value of their workers. For that reason, IOSH encourages businesses to adopt forward-looking, long-term strategies and broader measures of social sustainability and human capital value. They should adopt enhanced disclosure and reporting frameworks, to assess the value of the workforce and achieve better corporate human capital performance.

Occupational safety and health professionals play a crucial role in helping organisations to create reporting and learning cultures in which prevention lessons are learned. They are best placed to work across the business to support social sustainable practices and OSH performance evaluation and reporting.

IOSH resources

  • IOSH’s ‘Catch the wave’ campaign illustrates why social sustainability and human capital is important and the benefits to businesses who invest in the safety, health and wellbeing of their workforce. Principally, sustainability is also a much broader humanitarian issue and the campaign encourages organisations to place people at the centre of sustainability.
  • As part of ‘Catch the wave’, IOSH produced a white paper, Harnessing the power of social sustainability, to explain why occupational safety, health and wellbeing is a foundation for socially sustainable business.
  • In 2021 IOSH commissioned a survey as part of ‘Catch the Wave’ that aims to put social responsibility at the heart of sustainability measures.
  • IOSH is a key contributor to the ISO 45004 Occupational health & safety management – Performance evaluation guidelines, with publication due at the beginning of 2024.
  • ISO 30414, Human resource management – Guidelines for internal and external human capital reporting, is the first International standard that allows an organisation to get a clear view of the actual contribution of its human capital.
  • IOSH’s Competency framework reflects on how OSH professionals need a broader range of skills, knowledge in the human capital field.
  • IOSH, as a co-founder of the Centre for Safety & Health Sustainability, promotes improved and standardised OSH metrics in the human capital arena (see guides ‘Current Practices in OHS Sustainability Reporting’ and ‘CSHS Best Practice Guide for OHS in Sustainability Reports’).
  • IOSH and other world-leading organisations have joined experts in the fields of human capital, sustainability and OSH in signing a new commitment to position the OSH and wellbeing at the centre of the sustainable business agenda.

Consultation responses