Heightened due diligence by companies in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Anna Triponel

June 10, 2022

Our key takeaway: The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) is monitoring company responses to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia through its tracker, Russian invasion of Ukraine: What companies have to say about their human rights due diligence. BHRRC has sent out surveys to 336 companies operating or investing in Ukraine and/or Russia with questions about their human rights due diligence. The goal of the outreach “is to increase transparency of business human rights due diligence practices related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including gaps and examples of good practice”:

  • Expectation to conduct enhanced human rights due diligence: The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) establish that, when operating in conflict-affected areas, companies have a responsibility to conduct heightened human rights due diligence. This can include seeking out conflict-sensitive resources and advisors, incorporating atrocity prevention and conflict prevention tools into due diligence, developing conflict-sensitive operational-level grievance mechanisms, actively engaging local communities and groups, applying a gender-responsive approach, and actively participating in truth and reconciliation processes. In its survey, BHRRC asked companies to disclose how they are assessing risks to people and complying with international humanitarian law, including by consulting with employees, workers and other impacted people on the ground; how they are mitigating risks and tracking effectiveness of their actions, for example by taking measures to ensure that their products, services or operations do not contribute to Russian military activities and by weighing the potential adverse impacts of pulling out of either Ukraine or Russia; and how they are exercising leverage, for example by promoting human rights and peace in Ukraine, by protecting the rights of affected workers and communities, or by supporting Russian activists and human rights defenders. 
  • How companies have responded: 101 companies (30%) responded to BHRRC’s inquiry, and 36 companies provided a full or partial response to questions about their human rights due diligence with regard to the conflict. BHRRC highlights some company examples: Uber reported that, “[a]mong the first steps, Uber began regular outreach and consultation with employees, business partners, and both local and national government officials in Ukraine to better understand the fast-evolving situation on the ground in Ukraine and the priority needs of our stakeholders.” Meanwhile, Shell has “committed to “stop all spot purchases of Russian crude oil” and “withdraw from its involvement in all Russian hydrocarbons, including crude oil, petroleum products, gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in a phased manner.” But this is not straightforward: Shell also notes that in the context of its operation in Russia, “there may be circumstances in which our teams may have no choice but to supply military transport. This could be if armed troops demanded fuel or, indeed, if there was a legal obligation under martial law.” Another example is Ericsson, which “has integrated human rights due diligence into its sales process through the Sensitive Business Framework for the purpose of assessing, preventing, and mitigating potential misuse of Ericsson’s technology.” 
  • What companies can do: BHRRC finds that “[c]ompanies can and must do much more. Whether they choose to do so remains to be seen.” Other resources, like the 2020 report of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Business, human rights and conflict-affected regions: Towards heightened action, outline six actions that companies can take to meet their expectation for heightened due diligence in times of conflict: “Seek advice from embassies and investment and trade-related functions to receive conflict-sensitive advisory services and tools to assist them in respecting human rights in conflict-affected settings”; “Engage in heightened human rights due diligence that incorporates tools from atrocity prevention and conflict prevention to augment their existing due diligence frameworks”; “Develop operational-level grievance mechanisms that have a conflict-sensitive approach”; “Commit to active engagement with local communities and groups in conflict and post-conflict settings”; “Ensure that a gender-responsive approach is used to develop heightened human rights due diligence and in grievance, remedy and transitional justice mechanisms”; “Actively participate in truth and reconciliation processes and provide reparations and guarantees of non-repetition as part of their commitment to building peace.” (You can read more in our summary of the report).

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