"From my work on human rights I know well what the negative consequences of private sector-driven economic development can be. I see engaging with companies to make them change their practices and understand their roles better as core to peacebuilding," says Trine Pertou Mach, International Alert’s Head of Economic Development for Peace.
For 20 years, Alert has worked with the private sector to promote conflict-sensitive business practices and the role of the private sector in peacebuilding. This comes from the belief that when working in conflict affected areas you have to work with all stakeholders, including those impacted by and impacting conflict, to build peace. Businesses can play a positive role in contributing to a country’s economic development, but they can also exacerbate tensions and fuel violent conflict depending on their conduct and practices.
Alert first started working with Anglo American, the international mining company, in 2009 on the Quellaveco copper project in Peru, a country characterised by uneasy relations between mining companies and communities. We are now supporting all of Anglo American’s more complex operations, including in Brazil, Chile, South Africa and Peru, to ensure the company’s operations in fragile environments do not exacerbate conflict but on the contrary reinforce peace – something we refer to as conflict sensitivity. Through input into company processes and procedures, and direct training and accompaniment to staff and contractors, Alert has helped Anglo American prevent conflict and engage constructively with external stakeholders, including local communities, governments and security providers.
In 2018, Alert trained the company’s staff and contractors on the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR) in Brazil, Chile, South Africa and Peru, and reviewed Anglo American’s plan to further integrate human rights into their operations over the next five years. In 2019, Alert will be expanding the partnership to examine gender issues in the mining industry.
International Alert has been actively engaged with the VPSHR since the inception in December 2000. Alert is part of the VPSHR Steering Committee and has recently been appointed Chair of the Impact Assessment Working Group. The purpose of the group is to develop an approach for measuring impact of VPSHR implementation and the Voluntary Principles Initiative.
Based on our knowledge and experience of collaborating with companies, in 2018, Alert published a new toolkit on ‘Human Rights Due Diligence in Conflict-Affected Settings’. This helps companies operating in fragile or conflict-affected contexts ensure that human rights are respected in their operations. While there has been significant progress in following the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, there is little guidance on what this means for companies operating in conflict-affected settings. Alert’s toolkit helps bridge that gap. In these settings, where human rights violations are likely to be higher, having more robust human rights due diligence is crucial.
Using the toolkit, we have advised an international financial institution on integrating our approaches into their internal guidance on environment and social impact requirements, engaged with hydropower companies, worked with the Dutch government to incorporate Alert’s approaches into their private sector policies, and advocated for the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to adopt Alert’s approach.
"We need to support the private sector to change its standards when engaging in conflict-affected settings," adds Trine.
By integrating the toolkit’s core components into business practices and investment requirements, we will be able to increase protection of human rights to prevent fuelling conflict and promote peace, and this is what Alert is committed to do.
We work with companies under our Corporate Engagement Principles to help ensure we remain an impartial, independent and effective partner.