New guidance helps companies respect human rights in conflict areas

We have launched a summary of our forthcoming guidance for how companies can ensure they respect human rights in conflict areas, at the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.

The guidance builds on our Conflict-Sensitive Business Practice for the Extractive Industries, which was published in 2005. The field of business and human rights has developed a great deal since this time, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – a global standard for preventing and managing adverse impacts on human rights that are linked to business activities – have been widely taken on board since being endorsed in 2011.

However, despite the fact that most human rights violations take place in conflict areas, it is still not clear what the principles mean for companies operating in these fragile settings. The summary addresses this, providing an overview of the full guidance we are launching next year on how to undertake human rights due diligence in conflict areas.

The report was launched with a discussion at the UN Forum on what business leadership means in practice in areas affected by conflict, instability and social unrest. This was chaired by our CEO Harriet Lamb, who was joined by panellists Mark Cutifani, CEO of global mining company Anglo American, and Adam Brett, who set up Tropical Wholefoods, an enterprise that buys dried fruit and nuts from farmers in conflict areas such as Afghanistan.

Cutifani emphasised the need for businesses to understand and support the vision of local communities they are operating in and around, and leave a positive legacy.

Brett spoke of the important role that Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) industries must play in contributing to peace in conflict areas. He also stressed the challenges businesses can face when trying to do the right thing in these settings. “Conflict is not a black and white, it is a series of greys, and creates space for immoral entrepreneurs to gain ascendency. Local business lose their place in these environments.”

Brett gave the example of his Pakistani partner who has had to contend with a huge range of issues including land grabbing, natural disasters, corruption, and dealing with communities with links to the Taliban.

Our full guidance on conducting human rights diligence in conflict areas will include recommendations, case studies and tools to support companies like Tropical Wholefoods and Anglo American through this process, and help ensure they don’t exacerbate or create further tensions in their area of operations, while seeking to respect human rights.  

Find out more about our work on economic development for peace. 

Thumbnail photo: United States Mission Geneva (Creative Commons)