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25 Mai 2016

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.