Setting a Sponsorship & Human Rights Strategy: Conducting Due Diligence & Engaging Stakeholders

June 14, 2023



By Keri Lloyd

Sponsorship & Human Rights Series Part II. Establishing Ongoing Processes of Due Diligence & Conducting Stakeholder Engagement 

Companies’ responsibility to respect human rights extends to their sponsorships and corporate partnerships, yet these activities can be unique relative to core operations and business lines and require their own approach. In this three-part series, we walk through how companies can get started with a sponsorship and human rights strategy.  

Part I of the series considered how to establish the foundation of a strategy and operationalize a human rights commitment in the sponsorship and partnership context. Here in Part II, we’ll build on that foundation and break down the key components of a human rights due diligence program aimed at identifying issues and prioritizing those most salient to the company’s unique sponsorship profile.  

  1. Determine scope for initial due diligence. First, decide where to focus initial due diligence on sponsorships and partnerships. The depth and breadth of assessments can vary, and determining which scope is most appropriate will depend on the company’s current level of understanding of its sponsorship profile and where the most significant impacts may be. Approaches include:
      • Portfolio-wide assessments: One approach is to start with a higher-level assessment across the company’s entire sponsorship portfolio to surface the full universe of potential human rights issues relevant to those relationships and activities. Companies taking this approach would then be able to identify common issues across different sponsorships, distinguish which relationships and activities are associated with higher levels of human rights risks, and prioritize responses to address them.
      • Deeper-dive assessments: An alternative approach is to conduct deeper-dive due diligence on specific relationships or events, communities, or geographies. For example, companies may seek to better understand issues associated with flagship or priority relationships, like mega-sporting events, given their potential level of impact. On the other hand, companies may want to focus on relationships in geographies with a higher risk of adverse human rights impacts, or those involving potentially vulnerable groups, such as youth athletes. Companies taking this approach would be able to identify which issues are the most salient to specific relationships, geographies, or communities and determine if there are any gaps in their approach to addressing those issues.
  1. Assess through internal engagement and research. Understanding which issues are relevant to the sponsorship(s) in scope for due diligence, and how they manifest, requires engaging experts on those relationships and contexts. Desk research (including credible media reporting, internal research, and reports from civil society organizations and governments) and internal engagement with teams responsible for sponsorship and are therefore key inputs into sponsorship assessments. When it comes to internal engagement, relationship owners can provide insight into the structure of sponsorships and partnerships as well as which issues are uniquely relevant to them. Desk research can expand upon these insights and the growing body of literature on sponsorship and human rights, documented by the Centre for Sport & Human Rights, can serve as a helpful starting point. 
  2. Map and prioritize identified issues. Sponsorships and partnerships, given their diversity, can impact the full universe of fundamental human rights we are all entitled to. Mapping issues that are surfaced in interviews and through desk research can help ensure that potential impacts are not missed and make prioritization more straightforward. The core internationally recognized human rights standards expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the eight ILO core conventions are essential to consider. It may also be helpful to consider additional standards, especially when sponsorships involve or impact vulnerable groups or communities requiring particular attention (such as children, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers, among others.)  
  3. Validate through meaningful external engagement. Engaging groups and communities who may be affected by sponsorship activities (such as local communities, athletes, workers, etc.) is crucial for companies to validate that their assessment is accurate and comprehensive. In some contexts, it may not be feasible to engage directly with impacted communities, and therefore expert representatives can provide insights into their experiences and speak to the human rights challenges they face. This could include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who engage with impacted communities and understand the context on the ground, such as player’s unions, and human rights and labor organizations. Engagement processes should be meaningful for those involved. While stakeholders interpret ‘meaningful’ in different ways,  as Shift demonstrates, some examples of meaningful processes include seeking to strengthen underlying relationships with stakeholders involved; providing capacity building or support; and communicating the outcome of due diligence processes that stakeholders are involved in. 

Finally, human rights strategies should seek to establish due diligence processes that are iterative and establishing a roadmap for ongoing due diligence is one way to achieve this. Any team within a company can conduct human rights due diligence—it is not simply the responsibility of human rights and sustainability teams. When it comes to sponsorships, marketing, and brand teams are often best placed to understand potential issues and act on due diligence findings as the owners of those relationships. In Part III, we’ll consider how teams within and across companies can collaborate to act on due diligence findings. 

If you have questions or would like to learn more about how your organization can integrate human rights due diligence into your sponsorship strategy, you can reach us at