Russia: New human rights report on 'Doing Business in Russia' released at Davos

The 45-page report, 'Doing Business in Russia', part of the human rights organisation's ongoing campaign on Russia is highly critical of widespread corruption in the various linkages between companies and state institutions in Russia. It says that government decisions based on bribery rather than the needs of citizens lead to breaches of human rights obligations, and calls on businesses and the Russian government to do more to combat this.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'Businesses have increasing power and reach and this report is part of a process of encouraging companies to assume their full responsibility for human rights.

'While Russia's economy is vastly changed since perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the sad fact is that corruption and human rights abuses in Russia are rampant.

'It is time for businesses in Russia to do three things: ensure that they do no harm, check that their sub-contractors operate responsibly and press for higher human rights standards across the board.'

Blue-chip British companies such as ICI, Cadbury Schweppes, BT, Unilever, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca invest heavily in Russian. Amnesty International says that inward investors must do more than just comply with Russian law, which is extremely weak on company conduct, in order to avoid unwitting involvement in human rights violations.

Russia, with the eighth-largest oil reserves in the world, as well the world's largest natural gas reserves and the second-largest coal reserves, is a major energy player, and companies like BP, Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Shell and American firms such as ExxonMobil have major interests in Russia or the wider region.

The report warns that the people of Russia could suffer the fate of local populations in other parts of the world where disputes with extractive industries have been intense, and local people have suffered human rights violations as a result of these industries' actions.

Amnesty International is urging caution with regard to extractive industry projects that may impact on human rights, as well ones running through or close to conflict zones.

Russia and Ukraine plan a Ukraine bypass pipeline, and a Yamal-Europe pipeline is also planned, via Belarus. Meanwhile, Russia's largest gas company, Gazprom, is a partner with Shell and ExxonMobil in China's US$20 billion west-east pipeline project.

These and similar projects have the potential for serious human rights repercussions, including attacks by armed opposition groups. Amnesty International's report presses these companies to learn the lesson that pipeline projects must not sideline human rights concerns.

The report also criticises restrictions on freedom of expression, including the take-over or closure of independent news outlets and imprisonment of journalists and 'whistleblowers.' For example:

  • In April 2001, the partially state-owned gas giant Gazprom forcibly took over the Media-Most group, which ran a leading independent television station (critical of government policy on Chechnya), plus a radio station, newspaper and magazine. Editorial changes and closures followed.
  • The 2001 closure of TV-6, owned by Boris Berezovsky, a high-profile opponent of President Putin, was widely viewed as being politically motivated and linked to moves against Media-Most.
  • Journalist Grigory Pasko - an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience - was imprisoned for four years in December 2001 for revealing the Russian navy's illegal dumping of nuclear waste. He was one of several journalists imprisoned in recent years. He has been released this week.

Amongst other recommendations, Amnesty International is calling on businesses operating in Russia to:

  • make thorough assessments of the past record of any company that may provide security services
  • ensure that all security personnel operate within the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials
  • protect the human rights of prisoners if using prison labour
  • operate according to the US-UK Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights if within the extractive sector.

    While Russia itself has ratified all of the International Labour Organisation's 'Fundamental Conventions' - except Convention 182 relating to the worst forms of child labour - it has a poor record on corruption. It has not, for example, ratified the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

    Amnesty International calls on the Russian government to ratify these treaties as soon as possible.

    Further information about this subject

    The Russia Federation: Denial of Justice report (29 October 2002): http://www.amnesty.org/russia/pdfs/russia_report.pdf

    Amnesty International UK Business group and 'Business and Human rights: A geography of corporate risk' report (13 February 2002): http://www.iblf.org/csr/csrwebassist.nsf/content/b1f2.html /p>

    Further information about Grigory Pasko's case is available online, as is more information about Amnesty International's current campaign for justice for all in Russia

    Further information about Amnesty International's work on business and human rights is also available online

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