New UN guidelines on how businesses should ensure respect for human rights in conflict-affected areas

The risk of companies being involved in and potentially complicit in serious human rights abuses is naturally higher in the context of armed conflict and other situations of generalized violence. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights have released a new guide to provide businesses, governments and civil society with a better understanding of the human rights due diligence measures they are expected to take to ensure responsible engagement in conflict-affected areas.

New UN guidelines titled Enhanced Human Rights Due Diligence for Business in Conflict Contexts: A Guide (available here) was recently published. It is based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). UNGP No. 23 encourages businesses to address the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue, and notes that operations or business relationships in conflict-affected areas are likely to increase the risk of companies being found complicit in gross human rights abuses committed by other actors (such as security forces).

The UNGPs recommend that with respect to conflict-affected areas, companies conduct “enhanced” or “enhanced” human rights due diligence to identify and address their adverse human rights impacts. of man. Building on the UNGPs and the concept of enhanced human rights due diligence, this new guide states that:

  • companies should identify and assess not only actual or potential adverse human rights impacts, but also actual or potential human rights impacts. negative impacts on conflicts that the company may cause or contribute through its own activities, or that may be directly related to its operations, products or services;
  • the imposition of sanctions can be a useful indicator, but not a substitute, for increased due diligence; and
  • given that the contexts are particularly dynamic in armed conflict and other situations of generalized violence, companies must exercise increased due diligence on an ongoing basis and ensure that it periodically updates its assessment.

The Guide presents some of the first “red flags” pointing to armed conflict or mass violence that should trigger increased due diligence. Guidance is provided to help companies identify actual or potential negative impacts related to company activities, products or services. If there is a war that is illegal under international law, companies should “assess, and avoid or mitigate, ties to the aggressor’s war efforts to ensure they do not aggravate the situation”.

Businesses should further address the most severe conflict and human rights impacts first by considering scale (how widespread is armed violence affecting people, for example the number of people affected?), scope (how serious or serious is the armed violence, i.e. does it have a large number of dead and injured?) and irremediability (What are the limits to restoring those affected to a situation at least identical or equivalent to their situation before the armed violence?). A detailed list of parameters and considerations for determining appropriate measures to mitigate human rights risks is presented in the Guide.

The Guide also advises companies to adopt an appropriate exit strategy and warns that exiting hastily can be as damaging as exiting too late. A company considering exiting or suspending operations should “determine whether exit or suspension could exacerbate tensions and whether the potential harm to people outweighs the benefits”.

Until recently, there was little guidance on what human rights due diligence means for companies operating or doing business in conflict-affected areas, but a number of resources have been published in recent months. Companies reviewing their approach may find the following useful:

  • Security and Human Rights Toolkit International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva Center for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) and Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights Man (GCBHR) (Available here).
  • The Business for Social Responsibility Rapid Human Rights Due Diligence Tool for Human Rights Due Diligence in Emergency Scenarios (available here).

No doubt the Guide will usefully inform the formation of best practices in terms of increased due diligence to be carried out in relation to conflict-affected areas.

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