Project on business in conflict and post-conflict contexts

Introduction

As part of its mandate to promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in all contexts, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights in 2018 launched a project to clarify the practical steps that companies, investors and States should take to implement the Guiding Principles in conflict and post-conflict contexts. The project will run throughout 2019-20, and the findings and recommendations will be presented in a report to the UN General Assembly in October 2020.

Scope

The project will address the full “conflict cycle” and practical implications of all three pillars of the Guiding Principles:

  • The State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation and adjudication;
  • The corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts with which a business is involved; and
  • The need for access to effective remedy for rights-holders when abuse has occurred, through both judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms.

Background

It is well documented that business activity can have adverse impacts on people in conflict-affected settings. At the same time better understanding is needed of the practical measures that companies should take to prevent and address human rights abuse in contexts characterized by conflict or that are emerging from violent conflict.

As governance and protection gaps are especially acute, with state institutions typically lacking basic capacity to protect citizens, or functioning institutions completely absent, if not themselves the main perpetrators of human rights violations, what should and can companies operating in such companies practically do to safeguard workers and others affected by their activities and business relationships? Beyond state institutions inside the conflict-affected jurisdiction, how should other states as well as investors play a role in shaping conflict- and human rights sensitive business practice in such contexts?

The Guiding Principles clarify that companies should exercise “human rights due diligence” in all contexts, meaning that they should assess potential and actual adverse impacts, take action to address them, track the effectiveness of their efforts, and communicate how risks and impacts are being managed. They should also help remediate any negative impacts that they cause or contribute to. Having operations or business relationships in conflict-affected areas will require a different type of human rights due diligence as the risk of involvement in adverse impacts may be higher than in most other contexts. Guiding Principle 23 recommends business enterprises to treat the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue.

It notes that having operations or business relationships in conflict-affected areas may increase the risk of being complicit in gross human rights abuses committed by other actors (for example, security forces), which necessitates extra care. The Guiding Principles imply that such measures should take the form of “enhanced” or “heightened” human rights due diligence.

Spelling out what this means in practical terms in different types of situations and for different types of companies (for example, those that have a choice of leaving easily versus businesses such as small and medium sized local businesses that may need to remain in place) is one of the key components of what the Working Group project seeks to examine.

Outputs and methodology of the Working Group project

The Working Group’s recommendations and practical guidance will be presented in a report to the UN General Assembly in October 2020. The report may be accompanied by several companion papers to elaborate on specific topics and guidance. The recommendations will be disseminated in the last quarter of 2020, with active outreach to governments, business and the investment community, as well as engagement with civil society and international institutions. It is expected that it will be a key input to the 2020 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights.

The project was initiated with expert consultations in Geneva in October and November 2018 as well as an open multi-stakeholder discussion at the 2018 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. These discussions helped inform the scoping of the of the project. During the course of 2019, a number of activities will be undertaken to inform the Working Group’s work:

  • Regional consultations
  • Expert and multi-stakeholder consultations
  • Consultations with governments
  • Research (desk-based and interviews with practitioners)
  • Open calls for inputs to be posted on the project web page
  • A questionnaire distributed to all governments

The Working Group seeks to develop evidence-based guidance, taking into account both emerging good practices and existing gaps and challenges. It seeks to consult as widely as possible with all relevant stakeholders, including governments, civil society, business, investors, academia, national human rights institutions, trade unions, UN and other international organizations, and affected stakeholders and human rights defenders working on the ground. The project will explore several case studies and a diverse sample of past and current conflict situations in different regions.

The open call for inputs and survey will be issued in the first half of 2019.

Regional consultations

MENA region consultation: Beirut, 22 March

Consultations in other parts of the world will follow later in 2019-20.

Contact details

For questions about the project and submission of relevant material, please contact unwgbhrconflictproject@gmail.com and wg-business@ohchr.org.

To receive updates about the project

If you would like to receive email updates about the project, please sign up here. The email list will only be used to inform about publications, events and requests for inputs related to the Working Group's project. You can unsubscribe any time by sending an email to: unwgbhrconflictproject@gmail.com. We use a Google form to collect and store the information (only name, organization and email address). The contact list will deleted after the completion of the project at the end of 2020.

Resources and links

  • Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Business and human rights in conflict-affected regions: challenges and options towards state responses, UN Document A/HRC/17/32, 2011 (A companion report to the Guiding Principles focused on policy options for states): https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/TransCorporations/A.HRC.17.32.pdf