"How Not to Respond to Human Rights Leadership: A Primer for Business" - Sweden, Saudi Arabia & beyond

Commentary by Salil Tripathi of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, after the CEOs of 31 Swedish firms say that Sweden's Foreign Minister should not have criticized Saudi Arabia's stance on human rights, given the economic interests at stake.

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Company response
5 May 2015

Ericsson responds to criticisms of Swedish companies' letter defending trade with Saudi Arabia despite crackdown on freedom of expression

Author: Ericsson

As a leading Swedish company, Ericsson has strong support for Swedish values, including those around human rights, and this is well integrated in our company policies and culture, which we uphold in the 180 markets where we work around the world. Ericsson is also a member of the Swedish Leadership for Sustainable Development where many of the same CEOs stand up for Sustainability Leadership including human rights.

The DN article in no way undermines our commitment and position as an advocate for business human rights, and we were early adopters of the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGP). We have integrated human rights into our operations in concrete ways, and work with human rights issues on a day to day basis. We have several processes in the company to evaluate and mitigate human rights risks and one is for example the Sales Compliance Process. Our recently published Sustainability & CR Report is the first Information and Communications Technology (ICT) company report to use the new Guiding Principles Reporting Framework. Ericsson has had business in markets in the Middle East for more than 100 years. In all markets we seek to uphold the same principles and standards

Article
1 April 2015

How Not to Respond to Human Rights Leadership: A Primer for Business

Author: Salil Tripathi, Institute for Human Rights and Business

The dispute began when Wallström [Sweden's Foreign Minister] spoke out for Rafi Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, who runs a website called Free Saudi Liberals, and who has been sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for “insulting Islam.”

“This cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression has to be stopped,” she said...

...Following Wallström’s remarks, a group of Swedish business leaders also spoke up – but not to defend the Foreign Minister for taking a stand on human rights. Instead, they publicly raised concerns about the economic consequences of her statement. Thirty-one chief executives, from companies including H&M, Ericsson, and Volvo – wrote to a leading newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, arguing that the Swedish trading relations with Saudi Arabia should be retained...

As companies that do business around the world have found out, if they are unpopular with communities, human rights activists, dissidents, and others, it is, in the vast majority of cases, not because they are profit-making entities, nor because they are foreigners, but because their interests are aligned too closely with the interests of a ruling class or elite not sufficiently accountable to the people. It is that collusion that the dissenting communities and human rights defenders oppose, because it feeds the power inequities that create conditions for human rights abuses. It strengthens the powerful against the powerless...

...Defending and supporting human rights must mean more than happy workers or primary healthcare clinics and schools in communities or consumers using modern technology around the world, important as these are to be sure. Supporting human rights also means standing up when it matters and staring back, even when short-term economic pain may result. And if that is difficult, better to stay out of the debate, rather than bowing or kowtowing to the powerful...

[also refers to Apple, regarding speaking out against an Indiana law that would allow private businesses to discriminate on grounds of religion; and to Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte regarding their advertisement against the democracy movement in Hong Kong]

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Article
6 March 2015

Swedish firms fear losing business in Arab world

Author: Local (Sweden)

Sweden decided to limit military ties with Saudi Arabia days after accusing the oil rich country of blocking [Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström] from speaking at an Arab League meeting. Her cancelled remarks, published by the Swedish foreign ministry, did not mention Saudi Arabia but stressed women's and human rights...While the move was widely praised by human rights campaigners, as the diplomatic row unfolded, 31 business people submitted a debate article to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, warning that a government decision to halt its military agreement with the Saudis could damage Swedish exports to the Arab world... Leif Johansson, chairman of Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson also told newspaper Dagens Industri: “If you make yourself the enemy of the Arab League it could cause very great damage. But we don't know how this will play out until after a few years, it depends completely on how we manage to patch up our relations with these countries.”..

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