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Doing business in conflict areas: UN report details actions to avoid fuelling human rights abuse and stoking violence

27 October 2020

NEW YORK (27 October 2020) - COVID-19 has not only exacerbated the risks of violent conflict across the world, adding to an already fragile political landscape, it has underlined the need for all actors, including business, to ensure their activities do not fuel tensions and violence, a new UN report says.

The report by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights was presented on 27 October to the UN General Assembly by Working Group chair Anita Ramasastry.

The report notes that over the last decade, the number of civil wars has almost tripled, with a six-fold increase in related deaths – peaking in 2016 with 53 countries experiencing conflict.

"This bleak picture means that, more than ever, businesses face complex challenges to avoid being involved in human rights abuses if they operate in or have business relations with actors in conflict environments," said Ms. Ramasastry.

"In theory, responsible business can underpin peace, but the reality is that still too often a conflict-sensitive approach that takes into account the risks posed to people is lacking, with business activities as a result contributing to or becoming linked to human rights abuses that undermine peace."

The report addresses "old" challenges of business-related human rights abuses in resource-rich countries and notes that regulations to date concerning "conflict minerals", while welcome, have not changed the situation on the ground.

The report also looks at "newer" challenges and dilemmas. These include businesses becoming linked with non-state armed actors through their activities or business relations. Even companies with the best of intentions operating in countries emerging from conflict, notably in a reconstruction context, or countries going through a transitional justice period may face a number of potential pitfalls. The report also highlights challenges of conflict in the cyber age. It notes that beyond the means and methods of cyber warfare, many recent human rights abuses in conflict-affected contexts have been fuelled by misinformation and hate campaigns online.

The report identifies triggers and indicators that should lead to heightened action by states, business and the UN system to help ensure that business activity does not lead to human rights abuse and in turn stimulate or exacerbate conflict or negatively impact peacebuilding.

A critical observation in the report is that the UN peace and security architecture, which has the maintenance of worldwide peace and security as one of its essential purposes, has to date devoted little attention to the role and impact of business in conflict contexts.

The key reference for the report is the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide the global framework for State duties and business responsibilities to prevent and address business-related human rights abuse.

"The UN Guiding Principles provide clarity on respective roles, but responsible business in conflict affected regions is a shared responsibility. What is now required is more decisive action to integrate business and human rights into peace and security frameworks," Ms. Ramasastry concluded.

The presentation at the UN General Assembly is supplemented by a series of discussions with civil society organizations, business, governments and international organizations on 'what's next' for this critical topic, which in turn will also feed into a roadmap for global implementation of the UN Guiding Principles for the next decade.



Full report:

Executive summary: /Documents/Issues/Business/ExecutiveSummaryConflictReport.pdf

Project page: /EN/Issues/Business/Pages/ConflictPostConflict.aspx

The experts: The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights) was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 to promote worldwide dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation. Its current members are: Ms. Anita Ramasastry (Chairperson), Mr. Dante Pesce (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva, Ms. Elżbieta Karska, and Mr. Githu Muigai.

Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Follow the Working Group on Twitter: @WGBizHRs

For more information and media requests, please contact Graham Fox, Human Rights Officer (+41 22 917 9640/ [email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: In New York, Jonathan Fowler (+ 1 917 208 6656 / [email protected]). In Geneva, Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]) and John Newland ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

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