Skip main navigation

Protections for business assets

Protections for business assets
Industrial port with containers in Hong Kong

Just like employees and contractors of businesses operating in conflict zones benefit from protections under IHL, so too do business assets and property.

Protection from seizure

During an armed conflict in which there is significant unrest, there is a high risk that a business may have its assets and property stolen, misappropriated or looted. IHL protects against this by prohibiting pillaging and the confiscation of property. This covers a business’s physical assets as well as its investments and any privately-owned housing for its personnel.

As you learned in week two, IHL permits an occupying power to seize the property of a business under limited circumstances. You may recall this can only be done on condition that it is returned at the end of the armed conflict, and compensation paid. Beyond this limitation, unlawfully seizing business assets during a conflict amounts to pillage, which is, as mentioned above, a war crime.

Protection from attack

Business assets and property are also protected from attack during an armed conflict, unless the business’s property is being used for a military purpose. In that instance, it may become a military target that can be legitimately attacked by parties to the conflict. For business assets to become military targets, the facilities or resources must be used in a way that effectively contributes to military action.

For example, if a business operates manufacturing facilities that produce ammunition used by a local armed group during a conflict, this munitions factory is a legitimate military objective. Trucks or planes belonging to an oil company that carry and transfer oil to a party to the conflict for use in its military operations constitute legitimate targets. On the other hand, a business manufacturing or selling products or services unrelated to military activities, is not a legitimate target. But, if its premises or facilities are used by a party to the conflict for military operations, even only partially, those facilities will be converted to legitimate targets. Depending on the manner in which it is used, any civilian object can become a military target.

Under IHL, the principle of proportionality says that military targets must not be attacked when the likely consequences for civilians and civilian objects are excessive. Causing minor damage to a civilian factory that is closely located to a major military barracks could be justified as proportionate. Similarly, civilians working in a military target, such as an ammunition factory, would be at risk of legitimate attack.

Businesses should therefore consider these factors when making decisions about where their premises and operations should be situated within conflict zones, as well as decisions about potential relocation in the face of shifting conflict dynamics.

This article is from the free online

International Humanitarian Law for Business

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now