Human rights are universal. As a global health care company, Fresenius views the respect for human rights as an integral part of our responsibility. We are committed to meeting the regulatory requirements and social expectations of due diligence for the respect of human rights.
Medical care for patients and the well-being of our more than 300,000 employees are among the most important engagement areas of our human rights due diligence. We are aware that respecting human rights extends beyond our own company operations and core business. We consider human rights issues when selecting and cooperating with our suppliers and business partners, both in procurement and in sales and distribution. We are working to increase the transparency of our supply chains. The knowledge gained by doing so helps us to ensure secure supplies while reducing human rights risks in the procurement of important raw materials and supplies, as shown in the chapter Supply Chain.
Health is a human right
According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every human being has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. This includes adequate health care. As a globally active health care Group, Fresenius contributes to improving access to affordable, high-quality health care in many countries.
Fresenius is committed to respecting and upholding human rights. We underline this commitment with a Group-wide Human Rights Statement, which the Management Board adopted in 2018. The statement is based on the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It covers human rights issues that are of particular importance to our Group, which include prohibiting exploitative and illegal child labor or forced labor, preventing discrimination, promoting equal opportunities, and creating safe working conditions.
The publication of the statement also marked the starting point for our Human Rights Program, which establishes preventive measures helping Fresenius to prevent or reduce human rights risks in its business processes and includes human rights risks in our Group-wide risk management. The measures of the Human Rights Program are closely aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and build on its five elements: establishment of fundamentals, risk analysis, measures and integration, reporting, and grievance mechanisms.
In 2019, we identified and defined human rights topics that are of particular importance for the Group in a comprehensive project involving all business segments. They include access to health care, working conditions in the supply chain, and preventing discrimination and promoting equal opportunities. Our business activities and relationships can have impacts on human rights in these areas. In addition, the business segments work on potential issues specific to their business, such as potential environmental impacts related to production. This analysis forms the basis for identifying potential human rights violations and gives us the opportunity to develop necessary measures. In 2020, a Group-wide methodology for human rights risk analysis was initiated to identify and prevent or mitigate human rights violations at an early stage – and to then define further measures in the business segments.
milestones of the human rights program
Organization and responsibilities
Human Rights Council
In 2019, Fresenius established a Human Rights Council to drive the implementation and development of our Human Rights Program at the Group level. It is composed of representatives of the four business segments and Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA. The approximately 20 members of the Human Rights Council are active in various functions within the Group, including compliance, legal, sustainability, communication, purchasing, human resources, and medicine. The committee meets quarterly and promotes information exchange on current human rights topics across the business segments. The participants discuss Group-wide initiatives and present new concepts and methods. In 2021, the Human Rights Council met four times.
Addressing human rights in the business segments
In each of Fresenius' four business segments, various departments are responsible for planning and implementing human rights activities within their business segments and supply chains. Supported by Compliance Management Systems (CMS), they carry out training within the Group on specific human rights issues and provide information on how employees can react to and report any misconduct.
Our Human Rights Statement is a commitment by Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA and its business segments. In addition, Fresenius Medical Care has adopted its Human Rights, Workplace Rights and Labor and Employment Principles. The human rights statements supplement the Codes of Conduct of the business segments and their underlying human rights commitments. The Human Rights Statement can or should be regularly updated as new insights arise or new essential issues need to be added.
In the Human Rights Statement, we position ourselves on the following topics, on which further explanations can be found below:
We are committed to ensuring that the necessary safety measures are taken and that working conditions are fair and safe for all our employees. We want to provide a healthy and productive place to work for our employees. Therefore, for example, we implement the necessary health and safety measures for our employees.
We support equal opportunities for all people and oppose discrimination of any kind. No one may be discriminated against, e.g., on the basis of skin color, race, gender, religion, political views, age, physical condition, sexual orientation, appearance, or other personal characteristics. We also do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of membership of trade unions or employee interest groups. We strive for open, fair, and respectful cooperation. All four business segments have anchored these principles in their codes of conduct.
We respect the privacy of every person. We therefore take responsibility for protecting the personal data of patients, employees, customers, and suppliers. We are aware of the high data protection standards required to maintain the trust between patients and their health care provider. We structure the processes for handling patient data accordingly. We strive to handle all data carefully at all times. Therefore, all four business segments and Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA have comprehensive data protection management in place.
Taking responsibility for our employees is part of our corporate philosophy. We do not tolerate violence, threats of violence, or other forms of coercion. We feel especially obliged to protect children from exploitation. We therefore strictly prohibit the use, support, or acceptance of exploitative and illegal child or forced labor. Processes are in place in the business segments to comply with applicable laws on the prevention of exploitative and illegal child or forced labor. If laws in individual countries require it, we confirm on the respective country websites that these laws are observed. In 2021, e.g., Australia was added. We also expect our suppliers and business partners to comply with the applicable laws.
We respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Within the framework of local laws, our employees may join trade unions, establish employee representative bodies, and engage in collective bargaining through these. As described in our Code of Conduct, we promote open and direct communication with all employees. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of union membership or employee representation.
We are committed to protecting nature as the basis of life, conserving resources, and minimizing our impact on the environment. It is our common goal to preserve natural resources for future generations. Accordingly, we comply with all applicable legal requirements and, in addition, continuously develop our environmental protection measures. This includes the handling of conflict minerals, insofar as they are relevant in procurement processes. Before the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation came into force, Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA and its operating units already addressed this sensitive issue. We do not purchase conflict minerals directly. However, it cannot be completely ruled out that they have been processed in components and semifinished products that we purchase and further process or use in our products. In this case, our purchasing guidelines apply, as do the relevant Group and business segment codes of conduct for dealing with suppliers and other business partners.
We expect our suppliers and business partners to commit themselves to ethical standards of conduct in their daily business, and toward employees, society, and the environment. This includes the areas described in relation to human rights (see Supply chain chapter).
Human Rights Program
We respect and support human rights as defined in international standards, e.g., the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Our actions are based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were established in Germany through the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP) and the CSRCSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)CSR refers to the social responsibility of companies. Their operations can affect economic, social, and environmental conditions all over the world. reporting obligation. The measures of our Human Rights Program – which we are continuously developing, as the graphic shows – are based on these principles. We incorporate new requirements and legal frameworks, such as the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, which comes into force in Germany in 2023, into the ongoing development process and adapt our measures where necessary.
human rights program
Complaint mechanisms and reporting channels
Employees of all business segments and of Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA can raise their concerns directly with their managers. Employees and external stakeholders may also use dedicated complaint management systems to provide information or use designated e-mail addresses to draw attention to possible human rights violations or other violations. We provide information on these systems in the Compliance chapter. We strive to continuously improve our processes and further optimize the complaint mechanisms. Based on the requirements of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the European Union Directive on the protection of whistleblowers and their implementation in national law, we developed specific criteria for complaint mechanisms or procedures. Based on these criteria, an assessment has shown that the reporting system of Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA meets these requirements. The business segments observe the developments in this area and adapt their processes as needed, based on these criteria.
We are committed to protecting persons reporting complaints in different ways. Reports can be made anonymously, where legally permitted. Incoming reports are treated confidentially as described in the respective guidelines. Ombuds panels also exist at Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA, Fresenius Vamed, and Fresenius Kabi. These carry out preliminary assessments of reports received and initiate risk-appropriate investigations of reports on a case-by-case basis. Employees are also informed about the possibility of reporting potential violations through externally accessible websites. Our reporting channels are also accessible to supplier employees and other third parties. Fresenius Medical Care has an anti-retaliation policy in place.
If we find substantiated concerns or violations of laws and policies, we take appropriate measures. We use the results of internal reviews and reports to review our business processes and implement corrective or improvement measures where necessary. This information is also very useful for our risk assessments and the Group-wide risk management.
Our primary goal is to establish and continually develop appropriate human rights measures for Fresenius to prevent, end, or minimize the possible negative human rights impact of our business activities and supply chain.
Progress and measures 2021
To protect human rights, along with other measures, new guidelines were developed by individual business segments in the reporting year, which are accompanied by training courses.
New policies in the business segments
In 2021, Fresenius Medical Care developed a Global Social and Labor Standards Policy. The policy will be the business segment’s leading document concerning human rights topics related to the employees. It outlines, among other things, the business segment’s global commitments regarding fair and transparent working conditions, a discrimination and harassment-free workplace, freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining. The policy also covers the prohibition of child labor, modern slavery, and retaliation. Fresenius Medical Care plans to roll out the policy in 2022. In the reporting year, the business segment also rolled out its Global Policy on the Prohibition of Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Bullying, and Retaliation. During policy roll outs, Fresenius Medical Care provides employees with supporting materials to help them understand and implement these policies.
Fresenius Helios introduced a code of conduct for suppliers in late 2021. Here, the business segment defines the expectations a business partner should meet, and requires compliance with this Code of Conduct in the respective contracts. The Supplier Code of Conduct contains details on the regulation of child and forced labor and on fair labor and employment conditions such as working hours and wages.
In the reporting year, Fresenius Vamed implemented a Policy on the Protection of Human Rights. In this policy, the business segment underlines its responsibility to protect human rights in a human rights declaration and explains its efforts to further develop the protection of human rights on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, a human rights risk analysis was introduced. The guidelines set out a framework for identifying opportunities and risks in connection with the protection of human rights in operational activities and the procedure to be followed if human rights violations are identified or suspected in operations or in the supply chain. A corresponding grievance mechanism and a human rights organization with a human rights committee and human rights officers have been established.
The Fresenius Group has identified human rights issues and fields of action in all business segments that are particularly relevant to our value chains. In doing so, we consider various factors, including business models of the business segments, and current public debates and regulatory developments such as National Action Plans (NAPs) for Business and Human Rights.
Based on these topics, we further introduced our Human Rights Risk Assessment methodology in individual business segments in the reporting year 2021. This methodology takes into account the severity of the potential human rights risks, such as the impact on the people affected and the possibility of restoring the situation, as well as the likelihood of a potential human rights violation. Human rights risks have been integrated into Group-wide risk management in 2021.
As part of its due diligence approach, in 2020 Fresenius Medical Care began a comprehensive and ongoing human rights risk assessment of its own workforce, patients, direct suppliers, and its communities, identifying both actual and potential risks. The supplier sustainability risk assessment also takes human rights into consideration. Based on these assessments, Fresenius Medical Care has added two risks related to workplace rights to its enterprise risk management. The business segment continues to further develop its risk monitoring, mitigation, and prevention measures and processes. These include human and labor rights trainings which Fresenius Medical Care aims to roll out to all relevant managers and employees in support functions by the end of 2022.
At Fresenius Helios, for example, the human rights risk assessment is carried out in moderated workshops in which various relevant functions jointly discuss the assessment and prioritization of the individual risk areas. Based on this, a further risk analysis is carried out by the respective functions.
Helios Spain initiated a risk assessment and review in 2020 to also identify potential risks for human rights violations in the company. In 2021, these risks were aligned with compliance risks. Currently, Helios Spain is developing an action plan for each area where there may be an impact on human rights.
Fresenius Vamed introduced a risk analysis process cycle for an overall assessment of human rights risks in the reporting year. Based on individual risk assessments of each business unit, an annual risk portfolio is derived for the business segment. Furthermore, the business segment has implemented guidelines for the protection of human rights, carried out a human rights risk analysis in all business units for the first time, and set up a human rights committee for the business segment Fresenius Vamed. A human rights officer has been appointed for each of the business units at Fresenius Vamed. These human rights officers are responsible for implementing the measures and monitoring compliance with human rights due diligence obligations in the business segment. This also includes the further development of measures to protect human rights at Fresenius Vamed.
In 2021, Fresenius Medical Care included information on human rights in its mandatory Code of Ethics and Business Conduct training, as well as in its Global Supplier Code of Conduct training. The business segment´s aim is to raise awareness of this topic among employees.
In 2020, Fresenius Kabi supplemented the e-learning training on the Fresenius Kabi Code of Conduct with a chapter on human rights. The supplementary human rights module was successfully rolled out in 2021 as part of the mandatory e-learning on the Fresenius Kabi Code of Conduct. Employees are familiarized with the content of the human rights statement and the company’s positions on illegal child or forced labor, discrimination and equal opportunity, safe working conditions, the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining, protecting personal data, the influence on the environment, and responsibility in the supply chain.
Helios Germany trained its purchasing staff in the reporting year on the topics covered by the recently introduced Supplier Code of Conduct. In addition to requirements relating to environmental protection and human rights, it also includes further requirements, e.g., animal welfare and labor standards that will be required of suppliers and business partners in the future.
Helios Spain has developed a comprehensive program that focuses on people. The program also reflects the content of the Code of Conduct, in which the company emphasizes the importance of respectful behavior, a commitment to equal opportunities and freedom from discrimination, and respect for the compatibility of family and career. In the future, this content will be trained with additional focus topics such as human rights, social responsibility, and the environment. The ambition is to train all persons responsible for these topics who are assigned to the individual hospitals and companies of Helios Spain. However, the training courses are also open to all employees who wish to further train their knowledge in this area.
In the reporting year, we received information on potential human rights violations via the existing reporting channels. Further information on the reporting channels ca be found in the chapters Compliance and Data Protection. We evaluated these and determined that our management approach at Group level has proven itself; thus, no adjustments have been made compared to the management approach in 2020. However, progress and measures in the business segments certainly relate to changes in the respective governance structure or the improvement of existing reporting systems.
In 2021, we received reports from unions and workers in South America regarding the safety and health of our employees in our Colombian clinics. Two of these reports related to death threats to union members that these workers had received outside of their business activities. Clinic management took the reports very seriously and implemented all necessary precautions to protect the lives of workers within their business operations, as well as to assist the investigating authorities. Other reports involved incidents within the hospital’s operations. Depending on the severity of the reports received, they were discussed with the business segment’s management or the Management Board member responsible for Compliance, Legal and Human Resources, as well as with the employee representatives on the Supervisory Board of Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA. The management in all entities of the Fresenius Group is obliged to comply with local laws and regulations in dealing with trade unions or with regard to employee safety. These obligations are clearly defined in our Code of Conduct as well as in the codes, policies, and procedures of the business segments.
The evaluation of the reports on the above-described cases revealed that there was no misconduct on the part of the clinic’s management and therefore did not lead to any changes in the existing processes. The Clinic management acted in accordance with our Code of Conduct at all times.