The human dignity footprint

7 February 2012, Managing For Society, The Manila Times

The ongoing impeachment trial rightfully deserves plenty of attention. The quality of our lives as citizens is affected greatly by the quality of our justice system. Irrespective of the verdict that the Senators will hand down, I am hopeful that they will arrive at it with prudence and care in order to leave our justice system better for all of us.

For most Filipinos, however, quality of life is influenced less by a distant court room but by the immediacy of the workplace. Most Filipinos who go to work in business organizations every day will never step inside a court room or otherwise seek redress through the justice system. Still, they are faced by workplace injustice every day. The Constitution entitles workers to self-organization, security of tenure, humane conditions of work, participation in decision-making and a living wage. It is clear to most observers that much remains to be done to bring the Constitution’s vision of workplace justice into reality.

In contrast, the environmental movement has made more progress in making businesses more aware of the need to protect the environment from harmful business processes. Principle 8 of the United Nations Rio Declaration enjoins governments to “reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption”. Laws on clean air and solid waste management, among others, have put regulatory pressures on businesses to change their ways. But legal compliance to a bare minimum standard is clearly not enough in preserving the environment, as clearly shown by climate change trends in recent years. Initiatives like the ISO 14000 and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have encouraged more businesses to pursue sustainable operations way beyond what is required by law.

A powerful concept that is encouraging businesses to further minimize negative impacts of business on the environment is that of the carbon footprint. The emission of carbon gases has been linked to climate change. In simplest terms, the carbon footprint of a business organization is the sum of all carbon gas emissions which were induced by the business in a year measured in tons. The goal of a growing number of businesses is to make its carbon footprint smaller and smaller in order to protect the environment while reaping business benefits as well.

I believe that we should introduce the concept of the human dignity footprint to encourage businesses to promote workplace justice. The imagery of the footprint is particularly apt since businesses which violate worker rights are, in a sense, “stepping” on these rights. Businesses should avoid such practices as much as possible, even when such practices are considered legally compliant.

How can businesses measure their human dignity footprint? A logical starting point is the Constitutional entitlements mentioned above. The company can look at its entire supply chain and assess the extent to which these entitlements are provided to all workers in the chain, not just to the company’s employees. The reasoning is that work in the supply chain is “induced” by the business and are therefore, subject to its influence.

A simple human dignity footprint index, in percent, can be developed by counting all workers in the supply chain as the base and removing the percentage of workers who have all the needed development entitlements. Using this index, the company that allows or provides self-organization, security of tenure, humane conditions of work, participation in decision-making and a living wage to all workers will have a human dignity footprint of zero percent and will not be “stepping” on anyone.

Of course, this rough concept needs refinement and there are measurement problems to deal with. But I believe that, once refined, the concept will help adopting companies to be more active agents of social justice for the country while also becoming more competitive.

Dr. Benito Teehankee is the chairman of the Management and Organization Department of De La Salle University. He may be emailed at The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administration.