Business, human rights rights and corruption

In May 2018, URG published a policy report which demonstrated for the first time (using empirical evidence) that corruption has significant negative impacts on the enjoyment of human rights, and that – conversely – the best way to prevent corruption is to strengthen respect for, and the promotion and protection of, human rights (i.e. address root causes). Through the 2018 study, as well as URG’s work in support of environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs), it also became clear that corruption and the worst instances of human rights violations (including the killing of EHRDs) tend to happen at the intersection of government and businesses/commercial interests. On the other hand, Norway’s ‘Government Pension Fund Global’ and in particular its Council of Ethics has developed an elaborate system of checks (covering human rights, environmental protection, climate change, corruption, etc.) to guide its overseas investments; while governments (e.g. Sweden) are increasingly engaged with domiciled companies to provide guidance on how to ensure that their overseas investments comply with international human rights, anti-corruption and environmental standards. All of this has taken place against a background of increasing private sector interest in human rights and corporate responsibility, including in the context of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and corporate ‘ESG’ (environment, social, governance) ethnical investment initiatives.

The proposed project, to be taken forward in cooperation with the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, would aim to help move governments and businesses from a contemporary mindset characterised by compartmentalisation (i.e. ‘CSR,’ ‘business and human rights,’ business and corruption,’ ‘business and climate change,’ and ‘business and the environment’) and an emphasis on ‘compliance;’ to a more holistic mindset based on an understanding that human rights, anti-corruption, environmental protection, climate change, and sustainable national development are all interlinked and mutually reinforcing, and that a proactive or preventative approach to these issues is preferable to one based on meeting minimum legal requirements. The project will do so through a mixture of international-level research (especially focused on identifying and sharing good practices); platforms for exchange between governments, civil society and businesses; and the ‘testing’ of ideas through on-the-ground projects in Latin America.

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