Identifying opportunities for positive contributions thus becomes a good segue for businesses operating in conflict-affected settings to not only advance human rights and build a more robust human rights strategy, but also identify ways to contribute to peace and stability.
This is because there is also a conflict prevention and management dimension when addressing the causes and consequences of conflict, whether the conflict is linked to the company’s operations or broader dynamics.
These are only a few of the areas where companies have taken a proactive role, whether as part of human rights due diligence (HRDD) processes or risk mitigation and management in conflict-affected settings.
Weak or inadequate governance is one of the main causes underlying all four types of conflict-affected settings, as highlighted in all the consultations for the guidance, across all geographies. There was also a call for companies to contribute to the strengthening of state capacity; however, there are important nuances to consider.
For instance, some civil society organisations do not think companies should do this as it risks leaving community voices out and narrows the role for civil society. While in some cases in conflict-affected settings, companies may have no choice but to fulfil some state responsibilities, this can have the perverse effect of further undermining the state. In such cases, the best solution is to try to bring in and work alongside the authorities, supporting them where needed.
Case study: Strengthening justice, law and order
A company in an Asia-Pacifi c country was concerned about the dynamic between in-migration related to the development of a mining project, high unemployment, population growth and an escalation in crime.
This was also having an impact on the community’s livelihoods as many people – particularly women – felt too unsafe to leave accommodation compounds. The company was concerned that the decline in law and order increased their vulnerability to other problems – such as criminality, fraud and corruption. The state authorities were largely absent in the region.
Recognising the issues had to be addressed, but were under the state’s remit, the company worked with district and provincial authorities, central government and civil society to develop a plan for public-sector spending prioritising law and order. The plan was financed using a tax credit scheme which allowed the local government to retain a portion of the company’s taxable income for local projects. The scheme also meant that the company could undertake the infrastructure projects itself, rather than bringing in an external actor, saving the government costs.
Projects aimed to strengthen human resources, infrastructure, equipment and training for the legal and justice system, improve coordination between police, courts and correctional services, enhance local capacity to deal with law and justice, and reconnect police and government services with communities. This included support for strengthening existing court systems as well as training village board magistrates on use of traditional methods dispute resolution.
Coordination between the company, the government, the justice sector, the national police and the community reduced duplication, streamlined funding objectives, and allowed for better monitoring and evaluation of programme outcomes. The company also set up a steering committee of civil society organisations, companies and government representatives to oversee the development and implementation of the plans.
The project supported civil society groups that helped to defuse tribal conflict and violence in the area. It also established a Family and Sexual Violence Unit and a specialised police unit trained to respond to sexual and gender-based violence.
Contributing to address root causes of land disputes
Land is often a key conflict issue, especially in the extractives and agribusiness sectors. Land tenure systems and land titling are among the most problematic areas. Many companies have started to address this issue by working with the authorities to support land titling for communities. While there are cases of extractives doing this (for example, a mining company in Australia supporting land titling of indigenous communities in their areas of operation), it is mainly agribusiness companies leading the efforts.
Case study: Agribusiness in Gabon
A large agribusiness company in Gabon entered into a public-private partnership with the government, establishing village cooperatives for smallholder staple crops and palm production, and in doing so, helped the government reduce its 60% reliance on imported food.
The government identifies, allocates and transfers parcels of land (along with their respective land titles) to the cooperatives, which have been screened to ensure they meet environmental and social requirements for plantation development.
The company then provides a support package, including training and technical assistance for modernising methods and improving yields of palm plantations, introducing cash and food crops like cassava, tomatoes, banana, and pepper, and facilitating access to markets.
Each cooperative joining the project must adhere to the company’s Sustainable Palm Oil Policy.
This project has allowed more than 6,000 smallholders to improve their livelihoods and become landowners for the first time.
Source: Olam, Building a sustainable palm oil business, Shanghai: Olam, 2016, p.9
Working with those affected by conflict
There are abundant examples of more traditional approaches, for instance, companies supporting the reintegration of ex-combatants. Other companies have chosen different avenues, depending on how the conflict manifests in their areas of operation.
Case study: Youth recruitment to armed groups
An energy company in Colombia partnered with a foundation to identify risks to communities stemming from the armed conflict, and how the company could act on such findings. Two main risks were identified: contamination by antipersonnel mines and forced recruitment of minors by armed groups in the region. The company decided to focus on the second issue, and thus designed with the foundation a plan based on education and permanent community outreach addressing the risk of forced recruitment of minors.
The project had two phases. In the first phase, it focused on increasing awareness in at-risk communities of the existing government mechanisms available for them. This also required working with the local authorities to ensure they had the capacity and resources to respond, and that there was institutional clarity on roles and responsibilities. Through the partner, the company supported dialogue between the authorities and the community to explore concrete actions such as supporting community and/or family mediation centres, cultural centres, and other institutions working with at-risk youth.
The second phase focused on an educational awareness-raising programme with youth groups and teachers in schools. Teachers were trained on supporting at-risk youth, identifying cases, and working with the relevant institutions. Cultural and sports activities were also used to help prevent recruitment.
Although it was difficult to establish causation, security improved in the area of operations in correlation to the programme. The company hypothesised that this was because fewer young men and women were engaging with armed groups, and in the cases of those who were engaging, the programme had still deterred them from violent actions against the company. In addition, the participating youth organisations started to take ownership of further implementation of the programme. The local authorities were also better aligned and in a stronger position to fulfil their role to protect.
For more examples of companies acting upon the causes and consequences of conflicts, follow the link below.
Photo © Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo