Challenge Topic

Human Rights Concerns

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Sensitive discussions on security and human rights: addressing issues constructively

Good Practices

Develop a comprehensive human rights policy that is endorsed by senior management

(see human rights due diligence factsheet). ​​​​​​​

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, no. 15 and 16

  • UN Guiding Principle no. 16 and its commentary emphasise that a company’s human rights policy should:

Be approved at the most senior level of the business enterprise.

Be informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise.

Stipulate the enterprise’s human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to company operations, products or services.

Be publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties.

Be reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business enterprise.

  • Include a commitment to implement the provisions of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
  • Human rights policies for companies should include an explicit commitment to respect all internationally recognised human rights standards. As a minimum, this includes:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The International Labour Organization’s Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.


Examples of company policies and how they address different human rights elements

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Additional topics that can be explicitly included in human rights policies

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Clearly set out the company’s human rights expectations from the start of engagement with the host government. ​​​​​​​

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, no. 15 and 16

  • Refer to the host country’s relevant laws, highlighting the links between national legislation and good practices on business, security and human rights. Refer to international human rights standards, especially if the government has committed to those standards.
  • Refer to the company’s human rights policy and commitment to business and human rights initiatives, and explain the need to uphold the company’s reputation. Articulate from a company perspective the need for effective and accountable national security institutions. Highlight links between the company’s concerns and areas of interest for the host government (e.g. well-trained security forces).
  • Advocate for reform of domestic legislation that conflicts with international human rights standards. Appeal to the government’s self-interest in making conditions easier for responsible foreign investors.
  • Use language that resonates with host government actors. In certain situations, it may be better not to explicitly mention human rights, but to find alternative ways of raising related issues, such as by referring to good policing practices or adherence to professional standards.
  • Acknowledge the government’s positive efforts on human rights before suggesting improvements.

Incorporate clauses on human rights into investment agreements and commercial contracts with the host government.

  • Include references to widely recognized standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, the Core International Labour Organization Conventions and the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards.
  • Ensure that agreements with the host government specify that land acquisition and resettlement be conducted in accordance with international standards, in particular:

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

International Labour Organization Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.

International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 7 – Indigenous Peoples.

International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 5 – Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement.

Conflict-Sensitive Business Practice: Guidance for Extractive Industries, flashpoint issue 2:6 (International Alert 2005).

Work with other stakeholders to raise security and human rights issues with the host government

(see Internal alignment and coordination on stakeholder engagement and Information-sharing, Information-sharing, consultation and consent (Working with Communities).

  1. Use stakeholder mapping to identify key interlocutors on security and human rights issues the company can work with. Stakeholder mapping is an integral part of the development of wider human rights due diligence (see human rights due diligence factsheet) procedures (see Host government interlocutors: dealing with staff turn-over, decentralization of responsibilities and multiple agencies within Engagement and Coordination with host governments – Working with Host Governments).
  2. Work with other companies to jointly address issues of common concern with the authorities. At times, collaborative action can be more effective than individual companies approaching the government regarding security and human rights.
  3. Work with civil society organisations. Civil society organisations can serve as valuable interlocutors or mediators to communicate with security forces, governments or host communities.
  4. Work with home governments. Home governments can serve as valuable conduits to communicate expectations and to broach challenges with host government.Contacts should be developed with home government departments and agencies that have direct knowledge of and responsibility for security sector reform and governance issues (e.g. defence, international development, foreign affairs).
  • Engage with international financial institutions (e.g. the World Bank or International Finance Corporation) that provide funding to host State actors in order to jointly promote sustainable investment and good governance, including on security and human rights issues.
  • Establish or support an existing community security forum to jointly address security and human rights issues. This forum should include representatives from security stakeholders, as well as traditional leaders and representatives from any groups impacted by current or future security arrangements. This forum could also provide an effective venue for raising community security issues (see in-country working groups).
  • Consider forming an external stakeholder advisory panel. This panel could help monitor and engage in dialogue with the government on security and human rights issues. It can also identify good practices and innovative initiatives from other contexts. The panel should include stakeholders the host government considers legitimate (e.g. current and former officials in leadership, international statespersons), as well as people who are familiar with the plight of vulnerable groups (e.g. women and indigenous peoples who are confronted by large business operations in their region). Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: Implementation Guidance Tools, p. 21 (International Council of Mining and Metals, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Finance corporation, and IPIECA 2011).

Strengthen the role of other stakeholders.

  • Strengthen the role and capacity of civil society. In particular, focus on strengthening skills that enhance human rights advocacy, data collection, monitoring and evaluation, and the drafting of policy proposals and reports (see Internal alignment and coordination on stakeholder engagement and Information-sharing, consultation and consent within Working with Communities).
  • Support public dissemination campaigns, possibly through events, seminars, radio messaging, printed media dissemination and informative webpages in local languages. These campaigns can help build bridges between companies and concerned local-level stakeholders on security and human rights issues linked to company operations. It is important to understand the local context to ascertain the best means of public outreach, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected areas. Different groups in a local community—in particular the most vulnerable and the illiterate—may require different and varied outreach strategies (see Navigating different stakeholders: avoiding inadvertently favouring or excluding sub-groups within communities within Stakeholder engagement strategy – Working with Communities).
  • Support efforts by other governments, civil society and international organisations to strengthen State institutions.
  • Identify ongoing initiatives to support capacity development for oversight mechanisms and independent bodies, including legislatures, judiciaries, ombudsperson institutions, national human rights institutions, anti-corruption commissions and independent security sector oversight bodies. Seek ways to contribute to these initiatives.

Marsad Security Sector Observatories

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Engagement on human rights concerns: using leverage to strengthen security and human rights

Good Practices

Use existing leverage to address human rights concerns or seek ways to increase leverage.

(see Engagement with host governments in contexts of weak governance: avoiding (the perception of) complicity within Contexts with weak governance and transparency – Working with Host Governments).

  • If the company lacks leverage, consider ways for the company to increase it. Leverage on human rights may be increased by, for example, working through a multi-stakeholder initiative or offering capacity-building or other incentives to the relevant government entity. Leverage may change over time, and is often highest before the initial investment phase when the company is discussing a new agreement with the host government.
  • Engage with other stakeholders (e.g. home governments, other companies, civil society, human rights defenders,  national human rights institutions and relevant multi-stakeholder initiatives) to coordinate and raise security and human rights issues with the host government. Civil society and human rights defenders are important sources of information which can inform companies’ decisions on using their leverage to strengthen human rights respect. To mitigate risks to these partners, companies should always seek the consent of the relevant human rights defenders or civil society organisations before making any statements to the host government. If appropriate and agreed upon with the relevant stakeholders, companies should also seek to protect the identity of their sources, to the greatest extent possible.  

If it is not possible to effectively use the company’s leverage to mitigate the risk that human rights abuses continue, consider ending the relationship with the relevant entity if feasible, taking into account the potential adverse human rights impacts.

(see Engagement with host governments in contexts of weak governance: avoiding (the perception of) complicity within Contexts with weak governance and transparency – Working with Host Governments).

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, no. 19

Case Studies and Fact Sheets

Multi-stakeholder Working Groups on Business, Security and Human Rights

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Colombia Mining and Energy Committee

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