Promoting Peace & Protecting Human Rights: Business Operations in Conflict Zones
A large proportion of high-value resources, including oil, coltan, and hardwoods, are found in conflict-affected states, where security is limited and rule of law is weak. Human rights protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are especially vulnerable in these environments. Business operations in conflict zones may put these rights at additional risk, particularly rights such as the rights to life, property, and a minimum standard of living, as well as the rights against forced displacement or plunder, torture and inhumane or degrading treatment, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Human rights are especially vulnerable to violation in the course of company practices related to security provision, labor policies, community and government relations, resettlement, and access to land and other natural resources. Without processes in place to prevent or mitigate negative human rights impacts, business operations may unintentionally violate these rights.
In spite of the risks faced by both companies and host communities, there are several reasons why policymakers and practitioners interested in promoting both peace and poverty reduction have an interest in helping businesses operate in conflict zones:
- Private sector investment is necessary for development and poverty reduction. Aid alone cannot raise countries out of poverty. Private sector activity, both domestic and international, is necessary to drive development.
- Development and poverty reduction are necessary for peace and stability. A growing body of research has demonstrated a relationship between poverty and conflict, such that poor countries have a greater chance of experiencing violent conflict. By driving economic growth, businesses can help create the conditions for peace and stability.
- Private sector investment can be a mechanism for the promotion of peace and human rights. Beyond supporting conditions for peace and stability, companies can proactively build peace and protect human rights through core business operations, when these operations are conducted in a way that addresses the drivers of conflict or mitigates the impact of conflict. This may include (re)building infrastructure, creating jobs, and advocating for policies that support both peace and trade.
In June, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed a set of guidelines – the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights – that specify how businesses can prevent human rights violations in the course of their operations and redress grievances when violations do occur. The Guiding Principles outline three overarching recommendations to enable businesses to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, including a policy commitment to respect human rights; a human rights due-diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address human rights impacts; and remediation processes to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute.
Given the particular human rights challenges that businesses face in conflict zones, there are five additional things that businesses should do:
- Be conflict-sensitive. Ensure that business operations “do no harm” and do not exacerbate existing tensions or conflict. While any enterprise operating in a conflict zone inevitably becomes a part of the conflict dynamic, the negative impact of business operations on the conflict should be minimized. Conflict sensitivity offers a good framework for addressing human rights violations, and a number of practical guidelines for businesses have already been developed.
- Know the context. Conduct a conflict analysis to identify drivers of conflict, key conflict actors, and the potential impact of business operations on conflict. This analysis can be integrated into the impact assessments conducted before starting operations, but may require special expertise that can brought on board in the form of a consultant.
- Cultivate relationships with the community. Be proactive, inclusive, and transparent. Rather than waiting for problems to develop, establish clear channels of communication and begin building a trusted relationship with host communities before operations begin.
- Set up grievance procedures. Establish and publicize clear grievance procedures before problems arise.
- Mainstream conflict-sensitive practices into daily operations of all departments. While many companies try to cultivate positive perceptions and good relationships with host communities through periodic corporate social responsibility-style projects, core business operations – such as compensation policies, hiring practices, access to land, and construction – are more important in shaping the community’s view of and relationship with the company. Conducting business transparently and in a way that avoids exacerbating existing conflict is key.
By conducting business in a manner which protects human rights, companies can become powerful drivers of both peace and development.