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Existing business and human rights initiatives

Existing business and human rights initiatives
Global Compact+15: Report on desk of Business as a Force for Good General Assembly Session Remarks by The Secretary General

Now that you understand what the business and human rights agenda is, it’s important to understand the initiatives that support and promote a business’s responsibility to respect human rights. In several of these major global, multi-stakeholder initiatives that deal with business and human rights issues, we can find existing calls to action for businesses operating in conflict zones to abide by international humanitarian law. Let’s take a look at some of these initiatives, and the explicit references to IHL and armed conflict that they contain.

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs)

The UNGPs are the widely accepted universal benchmark for corporate respect for human rights. Principle 7 of the UNGPs highlights the heightened risk of gross human rights abuses in conflict-affected areas and calls on businesses to respect major international human rights treaties. Principle 12 entreats businesses to respect the standards of international humanitarian law when operating in conflict-affected areas.

UN Global Compact (UNGC)

The UNGC is the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative and its Ten Principles regarding protection of human rights and the environment, ending corruption and building a better, more equitable world for all – promote responsible business practice in conflict-affected areas. The UNGC has also published several reference tools for responsible business practice in conflict-affected areas and, included in their guidelines, is respect for IHL. The Global Compact also established the “Business for Peace” initiative which seeks to facilitate and expand companies’ contributions to security and stability in communities impacted by armed conflict.

Voluntary Principles Initiative (VPI)

The VPI is a leading multi-stakeholder initiative that promotes the implementation of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHRs). The VPSHRs guide companies on providing security for their operations while respecting human rights. Despite prioritising references to human rights generally, the VPSHRs also include explicit references to IHL. These references provide companies with legal and ethical frameworks to apply in conflict-affected areas, which are distinct and separate from human rights law. For example, the principles call on companies to respect IHL and include an expectation that any private and public security forces engaged by a member company are mindful of, and trained in, the rules of IHL.

The VPSHRs were drafted collectively by companies, civil society and governments. The principles are specifically (though not exclusively) aimed at oil, gas and mining companies and provide guidance on:

  • how to carry out effective risk assessments;
  • how to manage and regulate engagement with public and private security forces, and
  • how to handle security operations and incidents.

The VPI recently released a Conflict Analysis Tool which helps company staff to understand the dynamics of conflict in their area of operation, determine the company’s impacts on those dynamics and generate options to mitigate negative impacts that might pose human rights and conflict risks to the company and its stakeholders.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The SDGs were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and comprise 17 objectives for ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They cover a broad spectrum of sustainability topics, ranging from eliminating hunger and combating climate change to promoting responsible consumption and making cities more sustainable. Conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a great threat to sustainable development. The SDGs have been embraced by the corporate sector and many of the SDGs align with protections for people and communities in conflict zones under IHL. This includes ‘Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions’ which calls for a significant reduction of violence and armed conflict and the ‘promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies’. Respect for IHL by all societal actors – including businesses – is vital to meet this objective.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) were developed by members of the OECD (mainly governments of leading economies) to provide recommendations to large companies on responsible business conduct. The OECD Guidelines are the only multilaterally agreed and comprehensive code of corporate responsibility that governments have committed to promoting.

The Guidelines were last updated in 2011 to incorporate the UNGPs, and suggest companies respect IHL as part of their corporate respect for human rights more generally. The OECD has produced tool kits and other guidance materials to facilitate conflict-sensitive corporate conduct including Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. Although the OECD Guidelines are not legally binding on companies, they are binding on signatory governments, which are required to ensure the Guidelines are implemented and observed. Additionally, OECD member countries have established national contact points (NCPs) that are able to investigate and help mediate complaints (based on the OECD Guidelines) over alleged human rights violations carried out by companies operating in or headquartered in member countries. The NCPs are a unique, government-backed, international grievance mechanism that can address complaints by individuals who feel negatively impacted by irresponsible business conduct.

Montreux Document

The Montreux Document is an intergovernmental initiative launched in 2008 to promote respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law wherever private military and security companies (PMSCs) are present in armed conflicts. Currently, fifty-eight States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have joined.

The Montreux Document contains two parts: part one clarifies states’ existing obligations under international law related to PMSCs. It reinforces states’ obligations to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and to protect international human rights, their duty to investigate and prosecute international crimes, and their obligation to provide remediate violations that are attributable to them. Part two of the Document collates good practices related to state regulation of PSMCs. The Montreux Document is not a legally binding instrument but seeks to clarify states’ obligations with regard to the regulation of PMSCs, on the basis of existing international law.

International Code of Conduct Association (ICOCA)

The creation of the Montreux Document led to the development of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) in 2010. The ICoC articulates the responsibilities of private security service providers (PSSPs) under IHL to promote the responsible provision of private security services, particularly when operating in complex environments. It sets out policy and management rules, such as vetting and training of personnel, weapons management and grievance procedures. The ICoC also outlines core human rights principles, including the prohibition of torture and human trafficking and rules on the use of force and detention. It requires companies to comply with these principles, to include them in personnel and subcontractor contracts, and not to enter into contracts where performance would directly or materially conflict with them. Signing the ICoC constitutes a company’s public commitment to implement and operate in accordance with the ICoC’s provisions.

The International Code of Conduct Association (ICOCA) is a multi-stakeholder initiative formed in 2013 that serves as the governance and oversight mechanism of the ICoC. ICoCA’s mission is to raise private security industry standards and practices to ensure that PSSPs respect human rights and IHL. ICoCA brings together members from three stakeholder pillars – governments, PSSPs and civil society organisations. The ICoCA essentially performs a monitoring and oversight function over PSSPs in an independent manner defined by a truly multi-stakeholder process.

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International Humanitarian Law for Business

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