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Human Rights Watch submits input on corruption & human rights to the Working Group

Author: Human Rights Watch, Published on: 23 February 2020

"Human Rights Watch Submission to UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights Re: Corruption and Human Rights," 21 February 2020

...[W]e hope to describe some of the ways in which corruption impacts human rights, as well as raise three issues for your consideration.

  1. Corruption’s Impacts on a Broad Range of Human Rights

Corruption can severely impact a broad range of human rights. It deprives the public of money to invest in health, education, clean water, housing, and other rights; dangerously undermines essential government functions; and often leads to attacks on judicial independence, freedom of expression, and more...

...Businesses’ Responsibilities as Potential Beneficiaries of Corruption or Related Abuses

Companies need not necessarily participate in corruption to benefit from it or related abuses, raising thorny questions about the extent of their responsibilities. Companies that have business relationships with highly corrupt governments, state-owned enterprises, or politically exposed persons (PEP) are especially at risk of benefitting from corruption, and strengthening corrupt actors, in ways that don’t necessarily fall afoul of anti-corruption laws’ relatively narrow definition of corruption... 

Corruption’s victims include anyone whose rights it has helped undermine. However, legal definitions of victim are often considerably narrower, and it is also not possible to fully trace or document every person whose rights have been harmed by corruption, which can include entire populations, and especially the poor..

...Corporate Influence that May Undermine Rights

Businesses’ human rights responsibilities when attempting to exert political influence remain ill defined, even though this may sometimes harm human rights.

A few concrete examples of how this may arise:

  • What are businesses’ responsibilities when donating to the political campaigns of lawmakers, judges, or others, and pressing them to take a position that harms human rights?
  • What are businesses’ responsibilities when funding scientific research that has bearing on their operations? Human Rights Watch documented how US coal companies funded academic research that produced the only studies that did not find a correlation between mountaintop removal coal mining and poor community health.[10] The companies also opposed a federally funded study on the issue.
  • What are businesses’ responsibilities in whitewashing governments that engage in serious human rights abuses? In some cases, such as public relations firms, the whitewashing campaign is explicit; in other cases, large-scale sports or business events serve a similar purpose.


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