Help us enhance our Company Response Mechanism
Communities and workers affected by corporate human rights abuse face huge barriers in accessing justice and remedy for damage; this is a major challenge for business and human rights advocates. Since 2005, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has approached company headquarters over 2800 times seeking a public response to allegations raised by communities, civil society and the media.
This can be an important first step to increase transparency, dialogue and public accountability. For human rights advocates, it is an opportunity to raise human rights issues with companies, often beyond the well-recognised brands. For company representatives, it can trigger conversations about human rights issues within their firms and, in the best case, improve their approach. However, there are also significant opportunities to strengthen and enhance this mechanism. We are seeking views on how this can be done.
The recent blog series, The Alchemy of Business and Human Rights, takes a critical look at the business and human rights field, highlighting lack of remedy and the inequity in arms for those affected by abuse. The latest article focuses on Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s company response process. The blog highlights the value of our approach to affected communities and individuals, while challenging the Resource Centre to address weak and tangential company responses. This follows analysis by Menno Kamminga and our own briefings that look at trends and quality of responses.
There is a wealth of expertise that may help improve the way our Company Response Mechanism works to promote corporate accountability and eradicate abuse. We invite human rights advocates – whether in civil society, business, or government – to help us by responding to the questions below.
How does the Company Response Mechanism work?
Our network of 16 regional researchers across the world build long term relationships with human rights advocates on the ground, bringing understanding of the dynamics in the countries they cover. Where there is an allegation of corporate human rights abuse that has no public response, they reach out to the company to seek a response to the allegation. We then post the original allegation and the company’s response on our website and disseminate it in our Weekly Update. When a company does not respond, we clearly communicate this.
When we invite a company to respond to an allegation of human rights abuse, we always aim to do this in conversation with the community and/or NGO. We update them on developments, and we invite them to issue rejoinders to company responses. The allegations and responses we post are meant to be scrutinised not just by the parties involved but by the wider business and human rights community.
Dialogues can extend further and occasionally we take an active role in supporting communities and NGOs. For example, we recently supported groups in Russia working to free an indigenous community leader and environmental rights defender who was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 16 million roubles (£152,000) for “bribery and fraud”. He had led the opposition to a proposed Petropavlovsk mine in his community’s territory. We posted the allegations on our website and sought responses from two companies who did not respond, and assisted the local villagers in submitting the case to the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. We then contacted public investors in Petropavlovsk and invited them to comment on the case. Two of them have already responded; one committed to raising the issue with its clients who are invested in Petropavlovsk.
But we also get responses to allegations of egregious abuse that simply do not engage with the allegation, and instead give a public relations statement. And sometimes the response can be aggressive, seeking to reframe the allegation as an abuse of the company by the community or organisation. These all are registered as ‘company responses’ and we struggle to find ways forward for these instances. This is especially where we would like your help.
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Menno Kamminga of Maastricht Univ. analyses Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s company response database
Author: Menno T. Kamminga, Maastricht University
"Company Responses to Human Rights Reports as an Indicator of Compliance with Human Rights Responsibilities", 26 May 2015
“Naming and shaming” continues to be the principal method by which companies are held accountable for human rights abuses. This occurs primarily through NGO reports and investigative journalism. How companies respond (or do not respond) to such reports is therefore of great interest. The responses provide clues for campaigners and regulators on corporate attitudes towards human rights...The company response database of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is a treasure trove of information. It contains responses to some 2000 requests made by the Resource Centre over the past 10 years. A quantitative analysis of these data generates the following information:
- The extractive sector remains the industrial sector that gives rise to the highest number of human rights reports. The number of reports on abuses in the information technology sector (covering both threats to internet freedom and working conditions in the electronics industry) is on the increase, however.
- While the average company response rate to human rights reports remains stable at 70% there are significant differences between companies, industrial sectors, and corporate home states. The least responsive are state-owned conglomerates and companies based in China, India, Israel and Russia. Companies based in Brazil and South Africa have a much higher response rate than companies headquartered in BRICS in the Northern hemisphere. Companies participating in the UN Global Compact have an above average response rate but being a participant in the Global Compact does not in itself guarantee a high response rate.
- Companies are generally more inclined to respond to reports about alleged abuses within their own countries than to abuses committed abroad.
- Company responses containing references to international instruments or multi-stakeholder initiatives are rare indeed. Less than 1% of responses acknowledge that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights.
Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
There is no mechanism on corporate human rights abuses which has the global reach and scale of our Company Response Mechanism. As the business and human rights landscape changes, we need to continue developing the Mechanism to be as effective as possible at promoting corporate accountability and access to remedy for communities and workers. We therefore invite human rights advocates in civil society, business, and governments to give us their opinion about how we might improve the Company Response Mechanism.
- Related stories: Help us enhance our Company Response Mechanism
Author: Aaron Marr Page, Forum Nobis, on Huffington Post (USA)
The BHRRC has emerged as the essential BHR civil society institution... It also produces what has become a key resource in the field: a Weekly Update [that] focuses on allegations of human rights abuses or other non-compliance by businesses... the value that companies put on the BHRRC space is clear. Indeed it is not just “a” space but really “the” space — a chance to speak directly to the very audience of BHR professionals who are essentially charged with imposing “public” accountability on companies under the BHR regime... The platform has led to many success stories, but there are also moments of pause...responses are not held to any standard and every response is published.. [this] means that companies are able to bring diverse response strategies into the BHRRC space, some of which arguably are at odds with the vindication of human rights, or even with more neutral principles of BHR... there is legitimate concern that the BHRRC’s “level playing field” may, in some cases, replicate or even exacerbate power asymmetries between companies and the kinds of individuals and communities who typically lay claims against them.
[Refers to specific cases regarding NXP Semiconductors, Motorola Solutions, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) & Kabir Steel]