"Responsible Business in Occupied Territories" - with case studies on Iraq, Western Sahara, West Bank

Author: Sarah Saadoun, Human Rights Watch, in Harvard International Review, Published on: 28 June 2016

"Responsible Business in Occupied Territories", 21 June 2016

For more than a decade, there has been growing recognition that companies must respect human rights. That perspective was institutionalized when the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council approved the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011. While the international community broadly recognizes companies’ human rights and humanitarian law responsibilities, they are not always clear in specific situations, such as in territories under military occupation. Despite the lack of clarity, companies face increasing scrutiny and criticism when operating in such circumstances.

In early January, for example, a small Israeli-Palestinian news site called +972 reported that AirBnB, the US-based online real estate rental and tourism service, lists homes for rent in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Within a month, the story made its way into the New York Times and Washington Post, putting AirBnB on a growing list of businesses under pressure for their activities in territories under military occupation. Most of the companies concerned have links either to Israeli settlements, or, to a lesser extent, to Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. The Norwegian pension fund, KLP, for example, has excluded 10 companies for activities in these two places.

The public debate over these situations has largely focused on pressuring companies to help achieve broader political outcomes or to support sanctions on an occupying power. Despite the competing political objectives that cloud this debate, occupying powers have humanitarian law obligations related to economic activity in situations of occupation. And companies should be attuned to their unique responsibilities in such situations. This article seeks to assess and clarify the responsibilities of companies under international humanitarian and human rights laws and standards in situations of occupation...

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Related companies: Airbnb