When you think of Amnesty International, you may think of their work for political prisoners. You would probably not make the link between Amnesty International and human rights within business. 50 years after Amnesty was set up to defend human rights they are dealing with questions like poverty, gender inequality, forced evictions and the responsibility of multinational companies for human rights
On October 15 at OWIT event in Lausanne Stella Jegher, director of media and advocacy for Amnesty International Switzerland gave a fascinating insight into how multinational companies can help sustain human rights through the way they do business.
Companies operating across borders can be involved in some severe abuses such as forced labor, child labor; forced evictions of communities from their lands and violence against trade union members. Many states are failing to protect the human rights of their people – namely those of the poorest ones, amongst them women, indigenous people, rural and migrant communities who are at the greatest risk of exploitation.
Often, nobody is held to account for this kind of abuse as it happens far from the company headquarters. Amnesty calls this the accountability gap which canoccur for a number of reasons: such as a lack of specific legislation, the lack of capacity to prosecute and the dependence on the company as an investor.
Stella highlighted to the group 3 main cases that Amnesty is working on:
1) The Bhopal case in 1984 where a toxic gas leak left more than 20,000 people dead and where 30 years later survivors and activists are still fighting for justice.
2) The Shell Petroleum Development Company in the Niger delta, where huge oil spills have destroyed the livelihoods of fishermen, farmers, and families.
3) The Trafigura case in Cote d’Ivoire where operations to clean a petroleum product coker naptha produced toxic waste that was dumped by a third party at 18 locations in and around Abidjan causing contamination and illness.
Amnesty is calling for four standards of conduct for multinationals: prevention, accountability, remedy and protecting rights beyond borders.
Article contributed by Derwyn Cafferkey, Change Consultant and OWIT Lake Geneva Executive Vice President