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Europe refugee crisis: Businesses take steps to offer support while others are accused of contributing to anti-refugee sentiment

credit Caurso Penguin/Flickr

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is collecting company statements that recognise the important contribution that migrants and refugees have made to the diversity and economies of Europe over many decades, and call on all European countries to take a compassionate approach to the current refugee crisis.


See here for company statements in support of refugees. To share your company's statement, please contact Eniko Horvath ([email protected]).


Companies are also invited to share their statements via UN Global Compact's & UNHCR's Business Action Pledge in response to the refugee crisis.

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8 February 2016

Chobani CEO calls on fellow business leaders to hire & integrate refugees into workforce

Author: Jake Horowitz, Mic (USA)

"Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya Has a Message on Refugees Every Business Needs to Hear", 5 Feb 2016

While finding political solutions to the Syrian refugee crisis remains an ongoing challenge, [Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya] believes the business sector can do more in the short-term to help address the crisis...In 2015, Ulukaya founded Tent, a foundation devoted to raising awareness on refugees. As a part of that effort, he launched two different initiatives: the Tent Pledge, asking companies to provide refugees with job training and employment opportunities, and the Tent Challenge, providing grants to entrepreneurs who can devise solutions to the crisis...Although the program is still in its infancy, Ulukaya says 12 companies have signed onto the pledge...Contrary to the threatening way refugees are often depicted in the media, Ulukaya said his own personal story, coupled with his experience hiring immigrants, has convinced him that the vast majority of refugees can be hardworking and productive members of society...In fact, Ulukaya says hiring immigrants has been positive for Chobani's business. "There are a lot of studies coming out that show that hiring refugees is not a burden in the long run," he told Mic. "It's an opportunity for the community."...Ulukaya emphasized that despite the challenges, he remains confident that doing more to hire and integrate refugees is important not only for humanitarian reasons, but also to fuel business' bottom line...

Read the full post here

2 November 2015

European pension funds begin to consider companies' treatment of refugees & asylum seekers in investment decisions

Author: Judith Evans, Financial Times (UK)

"Migrant crisis on pension funds’ radar", 1 Nov 2015

A successful campaign to persuade Australian pension funds to divest from a company accused of human rights abuses in migrant detention centres has brought the issue onto the radar of some of Europe’s largest investors...Hesta, one of Australia’s largest retirement savings funds for health and community services workers, sold its 3.5 per cent stake in Transfield after activists ran a campaign on Twitter, the microblogging site, and other social media under the hashtag #HestaDivest...UniSuper, which provides pensions for higher-education employees, also sold its stake last year...NGS Super, a pension scheme for private-school teachers, sold in August on “moral” grounds. Christian Super has excluded the stock from its investment options, while First State Super said it had sold as part of “our normal investment decision making processes”...Transfield, which was renamed Broadspectrum in September, says it operates with a “zero-harm mentality”. “The vast majority of our [shareholder] register remains supportive and has not changed,” the company adds...

This rare example of mass shareholder action over treatment of migrants in Australia has drawn attention in Europe, where an influx of refugees from Syria and other war zones has brought the question of how countries handle asylum seekers to the foreground...Michael Jantzi, chief executive of Sustainalytics...says his company began raising the issue of migrant detention with clients last year...One of Europe’s largest 20 asset managers by funds under management, which asked not to be named, says it excluded G4S, the London-listed security company, from its actively managed funds last year because of human rights concerns, relating in part to the migrant detention centres it runs...On that incident, G4S says: “Two investigations commissioned by the Australian government since the incident presented no finding or recommendation that G4S caused or contributed to any breach of human rights at the centre.”...[Also refers to ABP, Alliance Trust Investments, Geo Group, Serco, Mitie, Nordea Asset Management]

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20 October 2015

Commentary: How Can Companies Support Refugees in Europe?

Author: Eniko Horvath, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

To date, only eight companies have submitted pledges to act in response to a call by the UN Refugee Agency and the UN Global Compact, primarily referring to donations as their key response to the crisis. Donations are very welcome, but they short-change the broader positive impact businesses can have on this issue.  In the past weeks, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre reached out to 35 companies for statements in support of a more welcoming environment for refugees. 15 have shared their positions. Based on these statements and other relevant actions, a few clear paths emerge on how companies can go beyond one-time donations to support refugees: 

1. Mobilising core business [examples from BMW, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, SAP, Total, Vodafone]

2. Calling for respectful societal and governmental action [examples from Aviva, SAP, Unilever, German & French industry associations]

3. Ensuring business does not support abuses through products, services & investments [examples from HESTA, Mutanox]

It is time for more companies to raise their voice in the refugee debate - as employers, investors, product and service providers, and above all, as powerful economic and societal actors. A more compassionate welcome for refugees is not only the right response to support, it also makes business sense.

Read the full post here

14 October 2015

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raises concern over media's role in fomenting anti-refugee sentiment

Author: Sam Jones, Guardian (UK)

"Refugee rhetoric echoes 1938 summit before Holocaust, UN official warns", 14 Oct 2015

The dehumanising language used by UK and other European politicians to debate the refugee crisis has echoes of the pre-second world war rhetoric with which the world effectively turned its back on German and Austrian Jews and helped pave the way for the Holocaust, the UN’s most senior human rights official has warned. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights...However, Zeid also insisted that responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights extended far beyond politics, accusing some in the media of fomenting the idea that migrants pose “a grave threat to the security of the country” and were not to be trusted. “In a modern, democratic society, you expect that there will always be some voices reflecting opinions in the extreme and my office of course supports the right to express your views as freely as you can and as wide a [breadth] should be given to that as possible,” he said.  “But when the media begins to fan such opinions, I think we have to be very careful about where this may lead and again we’ve had past experiences in Europe’s most recent history which leave us very worried.” He said he had felt compelled to criticise the Sun newspaper this year, after its columnist Katie Hopkins described migrants as “cockroaches” because the word was “straight out of the language of [Nazi publisher] Julius Streicher in the 1920s – and of course,Radio [Télévision Libre des] Mille Collines in Rwanda in 1994”.

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1 October 2015

Grass-roots aid efforts step in as tech giants shy away from taking action on refugee crisis in Europe

Author: Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post (USA)

"Earthquake? Silicon Valley will help. Refugee crisis? Not so much." 23 Sep 2015

[I]f you’d like to use your guest room for a more altruistic purpose — say, housing one of the country’s 200,000 incoming refugees — your best bet is a German nonprofit group so small that it’s running off Google Docs and piecemeal donations from online crowdfunding... The same companies that trumpeted their support for victims of the Nepal earthquakes just five months ago have fallen strangely silent in the midst of this messier, more political tragedy...To date, Flüchtlinge Willkommen (literally “Refugees Welcome”) has placed 176 refugees in local homes. But that pales in comparison with the number of spare rooms available on the $25 billion behemoth Airbnb... Through the company’s three-year-old Disaster Response program, which lets interested hosts open their homes for free to people in need, it could theoretically put up hundreds of in-transit refugees...To date... no private firms have partnered with [International Committee of the Red Cross] to develop tools or technologies to help European refugees, and no one seems interested in doing much more than flinging money at charity. [Also mentions Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Skype] 

Read the full post here

28 September 2015

Germany: Facebook to counter racist & anti-migrant speech online after request from govt.

Author: BBC

"Migrant crisis: Facebook backs German anti-racism drive",

Facebook has promised new measures to help Germany counter racism and anti-migrant abuse on the internet.  Facebook says it will promote "counter speech" in Germany to combat such prejudices and will deploy experts to monitor hate speech and act against it.  It was a response to German government concern about a spate of race hate messages, some targeting politicians who defended the rights of migrants.  The government has urged Facebook to do more to delete and combat racist abuse...German Justice Minister Heiko Maas discussed the matter on Monday with Richard Allen, Facebook's public policy manager in Europe. "This is a task that involves the whole of society, and I am very thankful to Facebook that it is recognising its responsibility," Mr Maas said later.

In a statement sent to the BBC, Facebook announced "three new steps to counter xenophobia on the [German] platform":

  • Partnership with FSM - a German non-profit community group which aims to protect young people on the internet
  • A task force "to look at hate speech on the internet... and counter xenophobia" - participants will come from online community groups, political parties and the German justice ministry
  • A broad campaign "to promote counter speech in Germany", including the involvement of experts from the UK and Nordic countries, who have fought racism on social networks.

The Facebook statement said "debate can take place in robust terms as long as people do not cross over into using hate speech against protected groups or set out to organise violence against others".

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26 September 2015

UN Global Compact & UN High Commissioner for Refugees call for company pledges in response to refugee crisis

Author: UN Global Compact & UN High Commissioner for Refugees

As the global refugee crisis is unfolding across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the UN Global Compact, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and with the support of other UN entities, civil society and NGO organizations, are calling on companies, as well as other stakeholders, to take action to diminish the suffering of people forced to flee conflict and support solutions for the resulting widespread societal disruption.

According to UNHCR, 60 million people, including 19.5 million refugees, have been displaced by conflict and over 410,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and other countries so far this year. Understanding that the primary responsibility for peace rests with Governments, the urgency of the global refugee crisis is a challenge that requires support from all actors in society – including business.

Some companies are already taking action by providing much needed financial support to UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes, as well as to other partners responding to the crisis. Yet, business leadership can extend far beyond financial donations. Companies with operations or supply chains in countries that are producing, transiting and receiving refugees are called upon to demonstrate leadership by taking action – as an individual company or in partnership with others. Companies should determine how best to support, based on their own assets and capabilities. The types of activities can include, but are not limited to:

  • Core business. Addressing the refugee crisis through a company’s core business operations, including internal procedures, human resources hiring practices, training, sourcing policies, supply chains, as well as the development of products and services appropriate for refugees.
  • Social investment and philanthropy. Financial contributions, relief items and strategic social investment support for NGOs, UN and multilateral agencies or directly to affected communities and/or contributing functional expertise through volunteering efforts.
  • Advocacy and public policy engagement. Fostering social cohesion and inter-group dialogue and relationship-building in the workplace, marketplace and community.
  • Partnership and collective action. Joining forces with Governments, UN entities, civil society organizations and/or other businesses to act collectively find solutions to the refugee crisis and forge long-term partnerships for regional economic and sustainable development.

Share the actions that your company is already taking, or to share a new commitment to action to help respond to the refugee crisis.

Take Action in Response to the Refugee Crisis

Illustrative Examples to Inspire Action

View published pledges

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26 September 2015

German companies refuse to sell razor-wire for Hungary's anti-refugee fence

Author: Rose Troup Buchanan, Independent (UK)

German companies have refused to sell razor-wire to the Hungarian government. Mutanox, a Berlin-based fence company, was approached by representatives of Viktor Orban’s Hungarian government for razor-wire to complete a fence aimed at keeping refugees out of the company. But owner Talat Değer refused the commission, despite knowing it would cost him roughly half a million Euro, claiming the right-wing government was “misusing” the wire. Razor-wire, unlike slightly barbed wire, is designed to rip and cling onto human clothing and flesh. It is commonly referred to in Hungary as ‘Nato wire’. “Hungary is misusing the Nato wire. Mr Orban takes it in his strike that people could hurt ir even die from it,” Mr Deger told the Huffington Post. His products, used mainly by security firms and some branches of the German government, are “not a bad thing if it prevents crime or stops criminals committing further offences.”  "But the refugees are anything but criminals. They're harmless people who are running for their lives," he added. Another German firm, which declined to be identified, toldSputnik news it had also refused to make any deliveries to Hungary. “Children, caught in the wire, is a disgrace,” the CEO told reporters.

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24 September 2015

Audi provides 1 million EUR in emergency aid for refugees in Europe

Author: Audi

Audi is moving quickly to help: the carmaker is making € 1 million in emergency aid available for refugees. The company is using the funds to support aid initiatives at its production sites in Ingolstadt, Neckarsulm, Brussels and Győr...People at our doorsteps are in need – and we therefore want to offer help quickly and avoid red tape.” The money from the corporate donation will flow to local aid projects at the Audi production sites.“...Audi General Works Council Chairman Peter Mosch: “We must not and we will not stand passively by when it comes to helping our fellow human beings in this desperate situation. We Audi employees are always there to help when it's important – and it's more important now than ever before.”...The automobile manufacturer is also considering ways to offer refugees long‑term job prospects. The goal is to design the efforts to be both targeted and sustainable. Intensive discussions for this are currently underway.

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17 September 2015

Germany: Software developer SAP offers app for refugees to facilitate registration

Author: Reuters, KNA

The app would be free of charge to migrants and authorities, and the company was in talks with German authorities to see if they could use it, said SAP's Stefan Ries. In an interview with the daily "Die Tageszeitung," the company's Chief Human Resources Officer added that no one had signed up so far. According to Ries the app will be ready to for use at the end of this month...The app - to be provided free of charge by SAP - would allow migrants to fill in personal data, details of any relatives in Germany, education and work experience while still on the road, Ries said. German officials would be able to access registration forms from databases, allowing them to keep track of the refugees and monitor who is still in the country.SAP also claimed the app would offer real-time information on the current capacity of Germany's refugee centers, as well as information on the country's education and healthcare systems...

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