The Voluntary Principles of Security and Human Rights and Intersectionality

Anna Triponel

October 23, 2023
Our key takeaway: People connected to, or living near, oil, gas and mining sites, including local communities, are susceptible to security-related adverse human rights impacts. These impacts include gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls, men and boys, and LGBTQI+ communities, with severe impacts on their mental and physical health and wellbeing. Underlying, and compounding, these abuses are systemic inequality, discrimination, and harmful stereotypes based on factors such as, gender, ethnicity, age, and religion. In today’s society, for instance, women from minority ethnic groups experience different types and levels of discrimination compared with men from the same group. Looking at how security-related human rights impacts materialises through this lens is called intersectionality; a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Adopting this lens is crucial for companies when developing and implementing human rights policies and processes to tackle identified issues because actions suitable for one group may not be suitable for another. Companies must also seek to embed this intersectional lens into corporate culture so that individuals feel safe to report incidences and seek the support they need.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs) published IGT Companion Tool: Operationalizing the Voluntary Principles through the Lens of Protecting and Respecting the Unique Needs and Rights of Women and Other Disadvantaged Groups (October 2023):

  • Intersectionality and disadvantaged groups: The tool defines intersectionality - a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 - as the way in which “individuals can have several overlapping social identities that can operate together, and at times exacerbate inequalities and discrimination, to impact their everyday lives.” For instance, women from minority ethnic groups will face different levels and types of marginalisation compared with men from the same group. The tool also defines disadvantaged groups as those “that are at a higher risk of experiencing negative impacts… because of their susceptibility to experiencing systemic discrimination, racism, marginalization, exclusion, and other forms of inequities because of their identity and the power, norms, stereotypes, taboos and roles associated with it – either within their household, workplace or community.” An important caveat is that “different groups may have specific preferences with regards to how they are labelled.”
  • Security-related human rights impacts: The tool provides examples of human rights risks and impacts related to security operations of oil, gas and mining sites. For instance, gender-based violence is prevalent and affects women, girls, men, boys, and LGBTQI+ people. Violence can be sexual, physical, psychological, social-cultural, and economic in nature and can have severe impacts on those affected: “[S]urvivors of sexual violence may experience immediate physical and mental harm as well as longer-term harms, such as the transmission of sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancies, loss of livelihood or shelter related to stigmitization.” For women and girls, it has been recognised that they face a higher risk of gender-based violence in certain settings, such as, “conflict-affected areas, militarized settings and other high-risk environments.” Underlying gender-based violence is a culture of harmful stereotypes and impunity: It “often stems from entrenched gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms or stereotypes that are indifferent, permissive or even encouraging of such acts.”
  • What can companies do? The tool provides several principles companies can draw on when designing and implementing security and human rights-related policies and processes. These are: (1) Inclusive and participatory. This means that companies “need to recognise and help dismantle” barriers that certain groups face when participating in social, economic and political life due to factors, such as, gender, age, race, ethnicity, and many more. This is to ensure that “they are not contributing to or exacerbating exclusion of certain groups and are instead empowering greater participation of traditionally excluded groups”; (2) Evolving and continuous. This involves nurturing “interactions and relationships with disadvantaged groups to ensure they are continuous and evolve over time – rather than only one-time engagements”; (3) Representation of interests, which involves assessing whether “different voices accurately and legitimately reflect the interests of disadvantaged groups”; (4) Do no harm. This means not “exposing people (especially already disadvantaged people) to additional risks or harms, and to avoid unintentionally exasperating current and potential conflicts, damage or suffering as of a result of a company’s actions”; (5) Adaptive, where companies should “adapt their approaches to the local context and history, legacy or history of the site and ensure that approaches are culturally relevant and appropriate”; and (6) Leadership from the top, where “corporate leaders clearly articulate this in corporate policies and messaging at all levels of the company.”

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