Our Mission: The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) is dedicated to being a global centre of excellence and expertise on the relationship between business and internationally proclaimed human rights standards...more

IHRB Programmes: Conflict

The role of companies in countries rich in natural resources but prone to weak governance has been at the heart of the business and human rights agenda for the past decade. Yet efforts to find constructive ways forward have only begun to emerge.

Artisanal Diamond Miner, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Shawn Blore, Partnership Africa Canada.

Artisanal Diamond Miner, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Shawn Blore, Partnership Africa Canada.

Operating in such contexts poses significant dilemmas for governments and businesses. Prudent use of resources can help the state overcome poverty, but there are many instances where the combination of conflict, corruption, and corporate complicity has contributed to flagrant human rights abuses.

It is increasingly acknowledged that the mere presence of large companies can exacerbate a fragile situation that can end up contributing to conflict. But the solution is not as simple as divestment from countries experiencing conflict. Through their presence, businesses can often provide stability and help build peace. But if they act irresponsibly, they may also prolong conflict.

The Institute for Human Rights and Business has been addressing these difficult challenges and its report – From Red to Green Flags: The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights in High-Risk Countries highlights the proactive steps companies can take to ensure they comply with the law, are not complicit with abuses, and act in a responsible manner, with enhanced due diligence.

A range of other initiatives seek to address challenges relating to business operations in high-risk contexts.

Helmet and flak jackets of the parachute battallion of the South African contingent of the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC)

Helmet and flak jackets of the parachute battallion of the South African contingent of the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC)

The UN Global Compact has commissioned research to highlight how companies can operate in a way that helps peace building efforts.

The UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights has engaged with governments on this issue to study the experience of companies in delivering services or maintaining civilian infrastructure while operating in conflict zones and to encouraging a process through which agreed principles and practical guidance to companies operating in such high-risk zones can be developed.

Businesses benefit from, and are responsible for the observance of, international humanitarian law, and individual business executives have been tried, and found guilty, of international crimes by tribunals such as those set up after World War II, and in cases brought by governments against their own nationals. Civil litigants too have sued companies under tort laws.

The Institute is also actively involved with the Red Flags Initiative as well as the forum to prevent genocide, co-convened by the governments of Argentina, Switzerland, and Tanzania and has contributed to the journal, Politorbis.

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