This new SOMO publication brings together existing knowledge about 24 international guidelines and principles for companies operating in conflict-affected areas. The main purpose of the paper is to give a relevant overview of the existing principles and guidelines and their scope, so that affected communities and workers can use them in their dealings with companies in case of business-related human right violations.

Multinationals and Conflict

International principles and guidelines for corporate responsibility in conflict-affected areas

Over the past 15 years, a plethora of internationally accepted principles and guidelines have been developed for business and human rights, culminating in the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in 2011. Many of these principles have special relevance for conflict-affected areas. However, there is need for more clarity on how to implement the different guidelines for use in conflict-affected areas. “There is need for a discussion on the best way forward, for instance on the possibility of developing a specific guidance for corporate responsibility in fragile and conflict-affected areas, in which all conflict-specific elements of the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles are brought together”, says senior researcher Mark van Dorp.

Improving implementation of guidelines

According to Van Dorp, “there are still some major problems related to the implementation of the different guidelines, as they have not notably improved multinational companies’ track record of human rights violations. It is also not clear what the impact of the existing principles and guidelines has been in terms of preventing corporate misconduct and business-related human rights violations. And, very importantly, existing guidelines and principles do not always offer the possibility to address wrongdoing or harm caused. Very few have a non-judicial grievance mechanism attached, with the exception of the OECD Guidelines and the IFC Performance Standards. For other guidelines with specific relevance to conflict settings, developing grievance mechanisms for communities that live in very dire circumstances with low security will be a major challenge for the years ahead.”

Profit from conflict?

“Businesses operating in conflict-affected areas can exacerbate the tensions that produce conflict or even profit from conflict. But, they can also help communities move towards lasting peace. We hope that a better understanding of what is demanded from companies will help affected communities and workers to engage with companies so that they contribute to peace instead of war”, concludes Van Dorp.