Complex business

REPORT | 6 December 2010
Foto: Juan Carlos Tomasi Calleja

How can companies respect human rights in countries marked by repression, corruption or conflict? This report highlights company actions in the most risky areas of the world.

How can companies respect human rights and contribute to peace in countries marked by repressive governments, widespread corruption or conflict? What happens when governments or public authorities require companies to act in contravention of international instruments for human rights through repressive laws or when they are part of a violent conflict? There are no easy answers; nevertheless these questions are relevant to hundreds of Swedish companies that are currently operating in repressive regimes and conflict zones. In this report Swedwatch wishes to show that there is room for action even in some of the most difficult parts of the world.

From a human rights perspective, the sole consideration for a company operating in, or trading with, a high risk area is not whether it may make a difference by leaving or staying. The primary issue is rather how and to what extent a company uses its opportunities to act as a defender of human rights, and how well human rights are embedded into its day-to-day and long-term strategic work. This report reflects different company choices and approaches. There are many examples of companies disrespecting human rights, directly or indirectly, when trading with countries marked by repression and conflict. However, this report also shows that some companies do behave as active defenders of human rights, by taking progressive action that challenges repressive or unsustainable structures, or by finding ways to honour the spirit of international standards when legal limits are in force.