An invitation from the American University
of Beirut’s Olayan School of Business to speak
at a regional CSR conference earlier this month provided an opportunity to
assess how far the business and human rights agenda has penetrated the Middle
East and North Africa.It was a good reality check.
In two days of lively discussion about
responsible business in the region, human rights were hardly mentioned.Indeed, if I had not raised the subject, it
might not have featured at all.That is
not to say that businesses in the region are oblivious of human rights issues,
or at least of economic rights.It is
just that these issues are seen through a developmental, rather than a human
rights, lens.There were some excellent
stories about company activities aimed at improving access to education and
health, empowering women, creating jobs and fighting poverty.Many businesses also have mechanisms in place
to fight corruption, at least in their own business dealings.
But the lack of a human rights focus means
that these challenges tended to be viewed from the angle of the business,
rather than the people affected.Nor was
there much appetite to discuss political rights, despite the controversy over
the role of communications companies in last year’s unrest in Egypt, or the
role of businesses in conflict-affected, or post-conflict, areas.Apart from a thought-provoking keynote speech
by the Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade, there was no evidence of
government engagement during the discussions.
The programme was thoughtfully put together
and excellently organized by the Director of the University’s CSR Initiative,
Professor Dima Jamali.As more
governments and companies develop policies and processes to apply the UN
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, it is probably only a matter
of time before human rights assume a more prominent place in discussions in the
region about responsible business practices.The issue is already on the University’s agenda, as is the need for
greater government engagement alongside business and civil society.
23 May 2012
Wish to comment?Graham
would welcome hearing your thoughts.
the chief executive of Barclays, Bob Diamond, gave the inaugural BBC Today
Business Lecture.Banks, he said, must
be better citizens if they are to win back the public’s trust.They have to focus on the interests of the
customers, clients and communities that they serve.Banks, he explained, have a vital role to
play in creating jobs and economic growth.But they needed to restore public trust: “no taxpayer money should ever
again be put at risk to rescue a failed or failing bank”.
month, we learned that Barclays have teamed up with Credit Suisse, UBS and
UniCredit, with the support of the University of Zurich, to form the Thun Group
and develop a “practical application guide to operationalising the UN Guiding
Principles” on human rights and business in universal banks.
At the same
time a Strategic Review of the Equator Principles (EP) is under way and is
addressing, among other things, the scope of the Principles, climate change,
reporting and transparency and proposals on how to integrate the new IFC
Performance Standards language on social risks, stakeholder engagement and
human rights into EP III.
potential for banks to have a positive or negative impact on human rights has
long been recognised.But the current
global economic downturn, with its huge impact on the economic rights of
millions of people,and the fact that
the banking sector has been seen by many to be largely responsible for
triggering it, has broadened the debate and given “corporate responsibility”,
when applied to banks, a whole new meaning.
Do the tools
exist to ensure that Bob Diamond’s laudable aspirations can be realised?The Equator Principles, in their current
form, are clearly not designed to prevent banks from having major adverse
impacts on human rights at a global level by engaging in irresponsible
operations in financial markets.While the UN Guiding Principles make it clear
that businesses “should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights
impacts through their own activities”, developing a due diligence approach that
covers the whole range of ways in which banks impact on human rights, not to
mention the provision of remediation to those affected, is a mind-boggling
challenge.So we wish the Thun Group well!
States, they have to decide to what extent they can rely on banks to address
these issues themselves, through codes of conduct and such like, and to what
extent new or amended regulation will be required.It seems inevitable that action will be
needed on both fronts.Bob Diamond said
in his speech that strong banks wanted strong regulation.However, in the UK at least, the response of
much of the banking sector to the recommendations in the Independent Commission on
Bankingreport suggests that there
is still some way to go beforethe sector, as a whole, is ready to face
up fully to the challenge.
2 December 2011
Wish to comment?Graham
would welcome hearing your thoughts.
Marking Universal Children’s
Day 2011 – a time for the Children’s Rights and Business Principles
In August, a few UK magazines ran the ‘Oh Lola!’ advert which featured Dakota
Fanning holding a bottle of Marc Jacob’s ‘Oh Lola’ perfume in what ‘some’ believed
to be a sexually provocative pose. ‘Some’ in this context happened to be four
people who complained to the Advertising Standards Agency. Despite four not
being a significant number, the Agency acted swiftly and issued a ban to all UK
advertisers not to run the advert.
Coty UK, the makers of the perfume challenged
the decision, claiming that the image was ‘similar to many other edgy images in those magazines’.Of course, how ‘edgy’ is defined is open to
interpretation, and I’m sure there are equal numbers of people who do not think
it is ‘inappropriate’ compared to those that do, if the blog responses on the
various newspapers that have covered this story is anything to go by.
strip away the issue and let’s focus on what happened.
photographer, advertiser and relevant entourage were willing to shoot and
create such an image.
manufacturer was willing to agree on such an image.
publishing houses were willing to print such an image.Responding
to the ASA, the Sunday Times said: ‘Their
publication was marketed to adults with an interest in cutting edge fashion and
that any sexual connotations that may have been associated with the ad would be
reduced because of that target audience.’
the companies involved have corporate responsibility departments, Codes of
Conduct, annual CSR statements and personnel, who no doubt, are committed to improving
their company’s CSR performance.
what we have here is a case of business and its responsibility to respect human
rights, and specifically the rights of the child, in action.
any of the companies involved decided to consider and assess any potential
harmful impacts arising from the selected photo image, it’s probable that they
would have opted to select the other photo of Dakota Fanning sporting the perfume
bottle by her cheek. And, in light of the ASA’s
assessment findings, it’s unlikely they would have banned that particular image.
the six year mandate of the former UN Special Representative on Business and
Human Rights, John Ruggie, many companies now openly acknowledge that they have
a responsibility to respect human rights, and recognize the importance of
assessing the human rights impacts of their existing and planned activities.
Rights and Business Principles, a joint UNICEF, UN Global Compact and Save
the Children initiative will arrive next year on the back of the UN Protect,
Respect and Remedy Framework and the Guiding Principles for its implementation.
companies will have a clear marker on what society expects them to do in
relation to children’s rights, and how they can ensure their activities do not
adversely harm the rights of the child, intentionally or unintentionally.
*Universal Children’s Day is
celebrated on 20th November, every year. The date marks the adoption
of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention of the
Rights of the Child (1989) by the UN General Assembly.
20 November 2011
Wish to comment?Désirée
would welcome hearing your thoughts.
The media and human rights: Is there a
role for governments?
For governments, this poses difficult dilemmas.Is
more regulation part of the answer?The UN
Guiding Principles make it clear that
States have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by business
enterprises through effective policies, legislation, regulations and
The problem is that any government move to introduce more
regulation to protect the individual from human rights abuses by the
risks exposing that government to accusations that it is seeking to
press and restrict freedom of expression.
Last year, a government in Latin America
sought, no doubt with the best of intentions, to introduce a new law
racism and discrimination, including provision for fines, suspension of
licences and removal of immunity for offending media and journalists.This caused an outcry from the press, a
hunger strike, protest marches and criticism from the Inter-American
The risk of government action being counter-productive is of
course even greater when the government concerned has a poor human
In most industry sectors, companies
are very reluctant to
criticize the human rights record of their competitors.Recent
events in the UK have shown that this
is not the case in the media industry, where competitors played a key
exposing the activities of parts of News International, contributing to
closure of the newspaper regarded as the leading offender.
Clearly, governments must perform their key role of law
enforcement.But this is one industry in
which even the most ardent advocates of regulation might conclude that
forces are more likely to produce results than more
1 November 2011
Wish to comment? Graham would welcome hearing your views.
Coming to the table – a time for media firms to
respect human rights?
The media provide an
essential vehicle for freedom of expression globally. Media companies can also
be justifiably proud of the ‘fourth estate’ function journalists have fulfilled
for generations in publicising human rights abuses by governments and others. More
recently, the media’s scope has extended to shining a spotlight on instances of
human rights wrongdoing by multinational companies - ranging from allegations
of mining or oil firms fuelling conflict, retail brands exploiting child
labour, pharmaceutical firms conducting unethical clinical trials, through to alleged
charges that internet companies have divulged the names of political dissidents
to government regimes.
This year, the media’s role
in advancing and promoting human rights has never seemed more relevant, as we witnessed
the Arab Spring uprisings unfold, and realised the invaluable contribution of satellite
and on-line broadcasting in furthering the democracy movements.
Yet until the News
International phone-hacking scandal resurfaced this year, it could be said that
we had lost sight of the fact that media organisations are major multinational
businesses, just as capable of committing human rights abuses when poorly
governed, as any other business. What was the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone
if not a violation of the right to privacy?
Following the News of the World’s closure on 4
July 2011, there has been some coverage of the potential for charges to be
brought against News Corporation under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in
relation to alleged acts of bribery of public officials by News International
staff in the UK. Much less however has been written about the relevance to News
Corporation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, or the
newly updated and closely aligned, OECD Guidelines for Multinational
The Guiding Principles stipulate among other
things that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and should
act with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others andaddress any adverse impacts with which they
are involved. In a week that has seen a third of News Corporation’s shareholders vote against Rupert
Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch’s re-election to the board, calls for robust
independent oversight of the business, and the company agreeing to a £2 million settlement to Milly Dowler’s family, the
Guiding Principles could not be more relevant.
Both the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD
Guidelines specifically call on companies to make a policy commitment to
respect human rights; to carry out human rights due diligence in order to
identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their human rights
impacts; and to provide for or co-operate through legitimate processes, in the
remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they
Responding to these new emerging expectations,
many global household names in the extractives, apparel, telecommunications and
even the banking and financial services sectors can now point to an explicit
human rights policy statement. But what of the media industry?
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those
newspapers that campaign for the abolition of human rights laws and standards,
and encourage a negative perception of human
rights among their readers, should have fallen behind the curve in this
emerging area of responsible corporate practice. But how many of the others,
less ideologically opposed to human rights, can honestly claim to have made a corporate policy
commitment? How many of them carry
out human rights due diligence, or intend to do so? And how many media giants
communicate publicly about how they address their human rights impacts?
In the wake of the phone-hacking
scandal that triggered international reverberations in the industry, is it not
time for media companies to start demonstrating their corporate responsibility
to respect human rights by carrying out human rights due diligence? We think it
26 October 2011
Wish to comment? Lucy would welcome hearing your views.