Posts Tagged ‘corporate social responsibility’

COVID and Human Rights: Shifting Priorities also for Companies

April 29, 2020

Foley Hoag LLP - Corporate Social Responsibility

Isa Mirza for Foley Hoag LLP wrote an interesting overview piece with focus on how Corporate Social Responsibility fits in:

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most significant global public health crises since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20. The spread of the Coronavirus through every continent and major metropolis has led to unprecedented policy responses from governments both large and small. As a result, the human rights community is more closely scrutinizing the impact of these responses, while many company operations are more likely to overlap with the pandemic and evolving government policy in some way. The corollary of this dynamic could be considerable, not just in the near term, but for how rights are to be protected and respected in the future.

Governments Around the World Threaten Rights under Cover of COVID-19

………

Corporate Responses to COVID-19

Companies have also made changes to their operations and policies in response to the pandemic. Many businesses have waived fees and made it easier to obtain a refund, instituted emergency relief and exemptions for borrowers, revised their rules to make them more transparent and flexible, made multi-million dollar donations to support public health efforts, and redirected or repurposed some of their products to help boost the supply of medical equipment.

NGOs and watchdog groups, however, are increasingly concerned about possible situations where companies could be knowingly or inadvertently violating rights as they attempt to sharply attune their operations to COVID-19 and attendant government policies.

Some companies that provide teleconferencing services – a lifeline for families and business during the crisis – have been accused of instituting weak privacy protections and misleading users regarding the quality of their encryption technologies. Concern has also been raised that some social media platforms have been slow in removing hate speech and discriminatory content against groups stereotyped as vectors of the Coronavirus. Under certain conditions, the latter could lead to physical violence against members of populations most vulnerable during the crisis, such as ethnic and religious minorities, healthcare workers in close contact with COVID-19 patients, and individuals under quarantine order.

Corporate Responsibility and How Companies Can Respect Rights During COVID-19

Although companies cannot directly change government policies or be expected to contravene national laws, the current crisis does compel businesses to consider if their operations may be contributing to harmful impacts caused by states and how then they could be meaningfully addressed.

There are well-established international instruments, principles, and best practices that companies can follow when considering how best to respect human rights in the context of COVID-19.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”) set global human rights expectations for companies in the 21st Century. The UNGPs are designed to encompass the full ecosystem in which business enterprises conduct commercial transactions and maintain supply chains. The UNGPs are premised upon three pillars. The first pillar is that governments have a duty to protect human rights. The second pillar is that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. The third pillar is that both governments and companies must provide a remedy when human rights are violated.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is primarily a responsibility to do no harm. This responsibility can be met in two ways. First, a company should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through its own commercial activities, and should address such impacts when they occur. Second, a company should seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts to which it is directly linked. A business is deemed to be directly linked to a human rights impact when it has ties through its value chain to an entity that has caused an adverse human rights impact.

Companies can largely meet their responsibility to do no harm by reviewing their operations and supply chains to identify human rights risks; conducting human rights due diligence to prevent adverse human rights impacts arising from commercial activities; and mitigating, remedying, or otherwise addressing adverse human rights impacts that nonetheless occur.

Social media platforms, internet providers, teleconference service companies, and other ICT-based enterprises should also consider the standards set forth in the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy of the Global Network Initiative (“GNI Principles”). Premised on international human rights norms, the GNI Principles provide member companies with non-binding standards and guidance for implementing them. Importantly, the GNI Principles state that member companies bear an express responsibility to respect and promote the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users. In addition, GNI member companies should be able to demonstrate their efforts in this regard. ICT companies that are not GNI members would be best served by seeking to emulate these standards.

Companies can further fulfill their human rights responsibilities by publicly disclosing the steps they are taking to address challenges identified in their due diligence.

In addition to being integral aspects of the UNGPs, due diligence and public disclosure are salient precepts in other human rights standards. For example, The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights – the only set of standards providing detailed guidance to natural resource companies regarding how to respect human rights in the provision of security at their operations – call on extractives companies to carry out regular due diligence on the potential human rights risks associated with the protection of natural resource assets. In addition, companies that implement the Voluntary Principles are encouraged, where possible, to publically disclose their efforts to address human rights issues that have been found through the due diligence process. Many governments are now also expecting companies to conduct some form of due diligence and commit to public transparency in order to enter into government contracts and partnerships.

In countries and regions where pandemic prevention policies have contributed to credible reports of human rights abuses, companies should be circumspect to ensure their local operations and supply chains are not contributing to those harms. When operational risks related to COVID-19 are determined to be likely, a company should be prepared to conduct targeted due diligence and a review of relevant policies. This could be complemented by public reporting on specific actions the company has taken to acknowledge and remediate COVID-related human rights challenges.

In addition, companies should consider taking the further step of discussing their due diligence efforts and findings with governments, human rights organizations, representatives of workers and vulnerable groups, and – where beneficial to public health planning – with the medical community.

The Coronavirus pandemic has stretched the resources of every institution across the globe. Governments bear primary responsibility for protecting human rights during the crisis, but their responses have also led to abuses. Although it may seem daunting for companies to factor their potential role in such abuses into their existing operations and policies, doing so will place them at the cutting-edge of best practice. It will also strengthen their capacity to adapt and respect rights in the face of future global crises.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/09/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-the-business-and-human-rights-resource-centre/

https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/covid-19-and-global-human-rights-93783/

Signatures for human rights: AI Indonesia partners with advertising company

September 14, 2019

Human rights organisation Amnesty International Indonesia has launched a campaign to spread awareness about how a single signature can make a big contribution to ending human rights violations.

According to a press release, it has partnered Grey Indonesia to produce a series of posters that utilise the simplicity of single line illustrations to visually communicate the strength of signatures. The series highlight three human rights issues that “really matter” to Indonesia’s millennial segment – child marriage, gender-related persecution, and the suppression of freedom of expression.

We at Amnesty International have witnessed how signatures can change people’s lives all over the world. With this campaign, we are hoping that Indonesian youth will recognise its power and start to take action for human rights,” said Sadika Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia communications manager.

The posters are situated in the Amnesty International office and its immediate vicinity (Menteng, which is a popular hangout spot amongst the youth). They will also be placed near other touch points and locales familiar to Indonesian millennials, such as trains stations, art galleries and coffee shops, over the next few weeks.

Grey Indonesia ECD Patrick Miciano said: “Grey Indonesia believes in what Amnesty International stands for. It is a humbling experience to be able to collaborate with one the world’s biggest defenders of human rights.

UN WEB TV: panel on human rights defenders and business

May 14, 2019

Panel on Safeguarding human rights defenders – Forum on Business and Human Rights 2018

On 27 November 2018 there was panel on “Safeguarding human rights defenders: new efforts and tackling growing threats” during the  Forum on Business and Human Rights. It is a bit old hat, but I wanted to show it as a good example of what is nowadays to be found on the internet as ‘on demand video’.

Brief description of the session :
The need for enhancing protection of human rights defenders who speak up against business-related human rights impacts is a standing item on the Forum’s agenda. This session led by the UN Working Group in collaboration with NGOs consists of two parts:
1. The first part of the session will be dedicated to showcasing new efforts to strengthen corporate respect and support for human rights defenders. Presentations will be brief, but meant to highlight encouraging initiatives and action.
2. The second part of the session will focus on the growing trend of criminalization and legal harassment of defenders who speak up against business-related impacts and identify concrete action to be taken by governments, business and others to address it. The panel aims to identify what “human rights due diligence” is needed and what are some of the practical considerations for preventing that companies become involved in criminalization and legal harassment of defenders who engage in legitimate efforts to address potential and actual adverse impacts. This will include identifying steps to be taken by:
•home States
•host States
•companies that cause negative impacts and who are the main targets of criticism
•companies that have business relationships to those causing the abuse (typically transnational corporations and their responsibility to address impacts in their supply chain)
•investors
•companies that invest in contexts where criminalization of human rights defenders is a salient issue

Moderator/ Introductory Remark…
•Michael Ineichen, Programme Director, International services for Human Rights
•Anita Ramasastry, Member, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Speakers
•Brittany Benowitz, Chief Counsel, ABA Center for Human Rights
•Vaewrin Buangern, Community member from Lampang Province, Northern Thailand, Community member from Lampang Province, Northern Thailand
•Bennett Freeman, author of “Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders”, author of “Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders”
•Andreas Graf, Human Rights Manager, Sustainability & Diversity Department, FIFA
•Johanna Molina Miranda, Researcher on Human Rights and Business, CREER Lawyer, Specialist in International Law of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law with studies in Politics and International Security and currently studying for a Masters in Public International Law.
•Mohammad Nayyeri, Legal Advisor and Program Manager, Justice for Iran
•Ana Sandoval, Peaceful Resistance “La Puya”, Guatemala, Peaceful Resistance “La Puya”, Guatemala
•Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

(Forum on Business and Human Rights)

Important legal victory for land rights defenders in UK Court

April 11, 2019

Vedanta building in India
Image copyright VEDANTA

On 10 April 2019, BBC and others reported on a landmark judgement in the UK that could have big implications for others cases in which human rights defenders seek compensation from multinationals. Nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers have won the right to sue mining giant Vedanta over alleged pollution, the UK Supreme Court has ruled. The landmark judgement means other communities in developing countries could seek similar redress in the UK.

Zambian villagers have been fighting for the right to seek compensation in British courts for several years. Vedanta had argued that the case should be heard in Zambia. The UK Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the case must proceed in the UK, due to “the problem of access to justice” in Zambia. The case relates to allegations by villagers living near the huge Nchanga Copper mine, owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta. Vedanta said: “The judgment of the UK Supreme Court is a procedural one and relates only to the jurisdiction of the English court to hear these claims. It is not a judgment on the merits of the claims.

Martyn Day, senior partner at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the Zambian villagers, said: “I hope this judgment will send a strong message to other large multinationals that their CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility]. policies should not just be seen as a polish for their reputation but as important commitments that they must put into action.

[In 2015, Zambian villagers accused Vedanta of poisoning their water sources and destroying farmland. Leaked documents seen by the BBC appeared to show that KCM had been spilling sulphuric acid and other toxic chemicals into the water sources. …In India’s Tamil Nadu state, a Vedanta-owned copper smelting plant was closed by authorities in May 2018.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/23/human-rights-council-recognises-vital-role-of-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

Azerbaijan: a Formula for combining sports and repression

April 21, 2015

Lewis Hamilton has just won the Bahrain Grand Prix [which was canceled in 2011 amid violent clashes after an uprising demanding political reforms]. It was the occasion for F1 chief Bernie Eccle­stone to says that the Azerbaijan “Baku European Grand Prix” will make its début in 2016, despite concerns over the country’s human rights record. Earlier this week, the sport’s official website carried a notice stating that “The Formula One Group is committed to respecting internationally recognized human rights in its operations globally.” Asked if the human rights situation in Azerbaijan had been checked out with a view to hosting next year’s race, Ecclestone said “We have” before adding “I think everybody seems to be happy. There doesn’t seem to be any big problem there.”

One wonders where he got this idea as the Human Rights Watch report (and that of other NGOs, such as FIDH/OMCT, see link below) on Azerbaijan for 2015 was damning:

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