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Article

1 Apr 2015

Author:
Salil Tripathi, Institute for Human Rights and Business

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