The Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes companies to consider their actions: these should be informed by the UNGPs and international humanitarian law
Our key takeaway: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a range of important questions for companies: what should they do, and how? There is no one answer, and a lot will depend on the company’s business and areas of operation, but there is an approach to follow. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and international humanitarian law standards, provide guidance on how to proceed. Mere compliance with sanctions is insufficient.
Pillar Two has compiled a resource repository on business and human rights issues relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
- Human rights responsibilities apply to the Russian invasion of Ukraine: Pillar Two underscores that it “strongly believe[s] that taking a rights-based approach in line with core international business and human rights standards (including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) to all elements of a company’s response, including responsible exit, and alongside other related appropriate action including sanctions adherence, will help drive better outcomes for people the business may impact as well as the business itself.” In short, companies operating in, or with interests in, both Russia and Ukraine, must decide on their actions, in a way that is guided by their human rights responsibilities.
- Opinion pieces on applying the UNGPs: The resource delves into a range of opinion pieces. In particular, these highlight the need for companies to guide their actions in light of the expectations contained in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). This includes going beyond legal compliance with sanctions, considering the human rights consequences of disengagement and divestment, considering how to use leverage to prevent or mitigate action and potential human rights impacts, integrating human rights specialists into crisis management discussions, and considering how business activities may be supporting the Russian military or broader Russian economy.
- Guidance, tools and company practice: The resource lists a range of guidance and tools for companies. For instance, a resource by BSR provides key points for business to consider: protect staff; express support for the rule of law; reconsider the criteria used for operating in countries that run afoul of peace, democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights; consider the company’s potential (direct or indirect) complicity in the invasion; support relief efforts; stay focused on the climate and clean energy – irrespective of spikes in energy prices; and use futures thinking through the lens of scenarios to enhance resilient business. Another resource by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) emphasis the need for a conflict-sensitive approach and consideration of international humanitarian law. Based on the Addressing Security and Human Rights Challenges in Complex Environments Toolkit (developed by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance and the International Committee of the Red Cross), the BHRRC provides the following key recommendations for companies: understand when and where the rules and principles of international humanitarian law apply; be aware of the potential for liability in relation to international humanitarian law; commit to complying with international humanitarian law and update company policies accordingly; ensure company operations, actions, and personnel (including security providers) neither violate international humanitarian law nor intensify violence in conflict-prone regions; undertake heightened due diligence and take a conflict-sensitive approach to analysing impacts and engaging with communities; carefully weigh the human rights implications of withdrawing from the conflict-affected context versus the human rights implications of staying; have a clear exit strategy; and implement a monitoring strategy. Pillar Two’s resource concludes with some examples of company statements, while emphasising the companies should explain in future statements how they have applied a human rights lens to guide their decision-making.