The Business of Human Rights
Amnesty Scotland is closely involved with the Human Rights Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament. The last meeting gave us some insight into how businesses handle human rights issues and the impact UK-registered companies have in countries with chequered human rights records.
The three invited speakers represented a diverse range of organisations and interests.
Drawing on abuses in his native Colombia, Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao Gaviria, Director of the Social Department of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference and Caritas Colombia, began the meeting with an account of those affected by the activities of UK-listed businesses overseas. He explained that Colombia is navigating a peace process that will hopefully put an end to a 65-year long conflict that has left around five million Colombians internally displaced.
He reported the armed conflict in Colombia has been a human rights disaster often exacerbated by foreign corporations. Apart from evident physical and emotional trauma, people who suffer forced eviction from land they have lived on for generations have no piece of paper saying the land is theirs to live on. Enter the multinational extraction company ready to operate on lands now “protected” by ex-paramilitary “security” companies. UK multinationals who employ companies linked with paramilitary groups cause a great deal of damage and occasionally spark violent conflict. In these clashes, women and children suffer the most.
The remedy? Monsignor Henao calls for businesses to work directly with local communities and be wary of employing third parties to deal with the people directly affected by a company’s activities. This won’t cure all ills, but it is a positive start.
Louise Haigh, a Public Policy Manager at Aviva Insurance, discussed the need for specific human rights frameworks to be developed for different business sectors. She said: “In today’s deeply integrated financial markets, accumulated failings in regulation, monetary policy, corporate governance and corporate behaviour can be catastrophic for human rights enjoyment. Yet few technical areas of finance have been mapped to human rights standards.” She also pointed out it is important to address the structural dynamics of an industry (in her case, the financial system), as well as the more salient places where human rights violations are attributable to business.
To this end, Aviva Insurance is working with the Danish Institute to devise human rights policy and assessment, but she stresses that national governments must supply clear strategies and action plans to help businesses do the right thing and represent the UK proudly.
David Brown, Head of Procurement for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014, outlined the challenges of ethical sourcing. Glasgow 2014 will be the largest multi-sport event to come to Scotland and products need to be sourced from the companies that can deliver. Transparency is important: Glasgow 2014 Ltd publishes all of the policies and procedures it uses to evaluate suppliers and promotes a living wage throughout its supply chain. The Glasgow Games are, after all, meant to be the friendly games, a “celebration of culture and humanity.”
You are welcome to come along to the Cross-Party Group. Keep an eye on the Amnesty Scotland Facebook page and Twitter feed @AmnestyScotland for future meetings.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.