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Business and human rights in 2010, is Amnesty making a smart move?

This article from the Financial Times speculates that NGOs will be raising their game over human rights issues next year.

This below excerpt from the piece is interesting, and perhaps significant:

“…But there are signs from Amnesty and beyond that the heat is being turned up again and that companies must brace themselves for greater scrutiny. “Things are getting more pressured,” admits the top corporate responsibility executive for one UK company with global operations, who declines to be named.

Lawmakers in many countries have raised concerns about corporate conduct. A cross-party group of parliamentarians in the UK earlier this month delivered a hard-hitting report on the “woeful [human rights] record abroad” of some British companies.”

(In the last part of this the reference is likely to mean Vedanta resources, among others. The firm is embroiled in a nasty dispute in India over bauxite mining in Orissa.)

The piece goes on to talk about Amnesty’s re-invigorated campaigning against Shell over Nigeria:

“Naomi MacAuliffe, an Amnesty campaign manager, says that while the alleged rights abuses would always have been a concern, Amnesty could have picked other companies to target. Shell was chosen, among other reasons, because it has a very well-known brand that is useful in mobilising activists.”

Personally I think targeting Shell, because it is a big name with a track record of being campaigned against, is not the smartest move for Amnesty.

Yes pressure over the effectiveness of community development initiatives and gas flaring should be maintained, (although cutting gas flaring in countries with little infrastructure to pipe it away is tough) but there are other companies Amnesty could highlight.

The danger for NGOs in choosing the same old targets is that people get tired of seeing the same names, on the same issues.

The companies get better at issuing complex rebuttals, often based on some useful work they are doing in the areas complained about.

Most importantly, other firms who deserve the attentions of campaigners, continue to operate under the radar.

I’d like to see more emerging multi-national companies put under pressure by campaigners. It is some of these, alongside better known industrial names from the west, who will have the greatest impact on societies in the future.

Here’s a suggestion for Amnesty or other human rights NGOs: Why not issue a list of the biggest high impact firms in the world, (not a ranking) pointing out who has a human rights policy / management system, and who does not? And ask them for comment as to why, or why not? Keep it relatively neutral, let the facts speak for themselves.

Meanwhile, the newly formed Institute for Human Rights and Business has laid out what it calls the: “Top 10 Emerging Business and Human Rights Challenges for 2010“. It’s a very useful list of the key issues.

1 Comment

  1. Good idea Toby, regarding the list of companies who have (and don't have) HR compliant policies. Hope the campaigners will pick this up.

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