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Press Release

24 May 2022

Widespread failure by companies in Russia & Ukraine to address human rights risks

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New research reveals far-reaching human rights risks for workers & communities due to insufficient due diligence by business in conflict-affected areas.

Businesses operating in Ukraine and Russia have failed to undertake effective human rights due diligence, putting workers and communities in these areas at short and long-term risk, according to new research published today. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) invited 330 companies operating or investing in Ukraine and/or Russia to respond to questions about their human rights due diligence processes. Only a small number of companies appear to take their obligations under international human rights law seriously and are failing to address significant risks.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, BHRRC, said, “It is clear most businesses are focused on obeying international economic sanctions at the expense of getting to grips with the horrors and misery the current military aggression is having on people powering their operations in Ukraine, and in Russia. A few are demonstrating leadership.

“Adhering to international economic sanctions is essential, but must be complemented with human rights due diligence. Companies that exit Ukraine and/or Russia need to do it in a way which upholds workers’ rights and ensure business activities are not contributing to the underlying drivers of conflict, or the triggers for violent episodes.”

Company responses

Of the 330 companies approached, less than three in 10 (96 companies) responded and just one in 10 (34 companies) companies provided full or partial responses to the survey questions. Twelve companies promised to submit a response to the questionnaire but did not do so by the deadline. Fifty companies only sent general responses, in which they expressed deep concerns and reaffirmed their commitment to respecting human rights and sharing information about their donations in support of Ukraine.

The technology sector was the most responsive, with 20 tech companies responding to our questionnaire. The sector also presented good examples of better practice; including Twitter’s set up of a cross-functional team (including its safety and integrity units and human rights teams) and Uber’s establishment of a steering committee several weeks before the invasion to identify risks, take mitigating action and plan for potential further escalation.

Ella Skybenko, Eastern Europe & Central Asia Senior Regional Researcher, BHRRC said, “Of the companies which did respond to our questionnaire on human rights due diligence, most said the safety and well-being of their employees is their top priority and described the immediate steps they had taken to ensure this. While a few companies outlined their human rights due diligence processes, including Engie and Fortum, they did not mention any concrete measures taken to enhance the existing human rights due diligence in response to the Russian invasion. No company said it had undertaken a conflict analysis, but a few said they had set up mechanisms to identify, prevent, and mitigate heightened risks caused by the conflict in Ukraine. 

“We must see all companies catch up and adopt these processes to ensure people whose lives are being ravaged due to military aggression do not face further harm due to irresponsible business conduct.”

Johannes Blakenbach, EU Senior Researcher, BHRRC, said, “The current crisis shows the EU Commission’s legislative proposal still needs to be substantively strengthened. For instance, the draft does not provide any explicit direction on a conflict-sensitive approach which should complement and augment companies’ human rights due diligence. This should change. Also, the broader gaps in the current proposal, such as weak provisions on safe stakeholder engagement, or mere one-off due diligence for financial actors, limit the law’s potential impact in conflict, where risks may evolve quickly, and worker and community feedback is all the more vital.” 

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Notes to editors: 

  • Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe.  
  • The 34 companies which provided full or partial responses to our questions include Accor, BASF, Booking Holdings, Bosch, Carlsberg, CCC, Chevron, Clifford Chance, Credit Suisse, Engie, Eni, Ericsson, Fortum, HeidelbergCement, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Henkel, Hitachi, illycaffè, LG Electronics, Marks & Spencer, Michelin, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pirelli, Raiffeisen Bank, SAP, Shell, Siemens, Twitter, Uber, Unilever, Uniper, Vitol and Wintershall Dea.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]