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Human Rights in the Context of Business

Lecture 5

Human Rights Defined

Human rights in the Indian context means - all rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of every individual guaranteed by the Indian constitution or embodied in the International covenants and enforceable by the Courts in India

Human Rights Put Simply

Human rights constitute the matrix of all fundamental rights that each individual has today. These rights include (naming a few) - Right to Life and health - Right to Freedom and personal liberty - Right of equality - Right to work and livelihood - Right to freedom of conscience and religion - Right against arbitrary arrest - Right for demanding enforcement of such guaranteed human rights

Despite the fact that business obligations towards human rights are so frequently the subject of news coverage, popular debate and of consumer and NGO campaigns, they still lack definition. We are still left with two basic questions that lie at the heart of the dispute between businesses and the Human Rights group: What defines businesses human rights obligations? How far do these extend?

One immediate distinction which limits the scope of business responsibility is the distinction between immediate responsibility and collective responsibility . Immediate responsibility is the responsibility which stems from the activities of a particular business, such as a factory using child labour. The concept of collective responsibility arises from the participation of businesses, as a collectivity, in an inequitable global economic system which engenders severe disadvantages for many groups and societies.

T y p e s o f c o m p a n y a c t i v i t y

Concerns the rights of individuals using Concerns the rights of individuals employed essential goods and services which by the company, or seeking employment are provided by the company, such as with the company company educational, housing, and medical facilities

Concerns the rights of individuals residing in societies (inc. societies defined by political, cultural or geographic boundaries) which are affected by company activities

TYPES OF COMPANY ACTIVITY Potential violations identified for company departments Concerns the rights of individuals residing on

or near the land owned or used by the company

Concerns the rights of individuals using or coming into contact with company products, and individuals or groups affected by company marketing campaigns

Concerns the rights of individuals involved in the research, development, and testing phases of company products, both as test subjects and as possessors of knowledge

In Relation to Workers
usinesses should promote, protect and secure their rights. Health and safety regulations are a good example of the application of this concept of fuller duties in relation to employees.

In Regards to Products
Businesses have a duty to ensure that their products are not used in the violation of human rights. This comprises responsibility to take reasonable measures to prevent both the intentional misuse, and the unintentional wrongful use of the product. For instance- Declare Level of Pesticide

Responsibilities towards Communities

usinesses should assume positive responsibilities in relation to anyone residing near its locations. This includes the positive duty to keep the people informed of changes in the plans to use the land, to give the people a voice in those changes, and to ensure that the voice of the people, i.e. their leaders, is actually representative of the majority will.

It is clear that the responsibilities identified previously derive not from the power of businesses per se, but rather from the requirement that businesses ensure that the generally more far-reaching effects of their operations do not negatively affect their own functioning.

The proximity of a company to human rights violations

Can be viewed on three levels: direct, indirect, and no connection. Direct entails a distinct, clear and unbroken connection between the activity of the company and the human rights violation. Examples include a company discriminating in its hiring practices, or locking the doors on workers to prevent them from running away. In such cases, the company has a straightforward and immediate responsibility to do whatever is necessary to mitigate, or stop the violations.

Indirect entails a violation, which the company contributes to, but does not directly initiate or perpetrate, by enabling an abusive practice to be established or continued. For example, companies will sometimes buy from suppliers or producers that violate human rights in their operations. Or, a company might undertake a joint venture with an oppressive government. In such cases, the company still has some responsibility to take action to ameliorate the harm, but the action should be proportionate to the nature of the link between the company and the violations.

In the modern world, the decisions taken by a business can have major implications for lives and communities geographically and culturally remote, so businesses do have to be discerning in identifying their indirect connection to violations.

Case 1
For example, in the early 1990s several international oil companies undertook a joint venture with the Burmese government and the state oil company, Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). MOGE assumed responsibility for providing labour and security for the construction of a gas pipeline for the project. Allegations later emerged that forced labour and child labour were used to construct the pipeline, and that other violations, including torture, and forced relocation, occurred in MOGEs operations to clear the area and provide security.

Although the main Western partner, Unocal, did not directly carry out these purported violations itself, because of its involvement in the project, its liability for acting in concert with the Burmese government and MOGE in breaching universally recognised human rights standards is now under consideration in the United States District Court of California

Business and Human Rights Why are Human Rights important to Business ?
Compliance with both National and International Laws Human rights principles are contained in national and international law. Ensuring that business operations are consistent with these legal principles helps companies avoid legal challenges to their global activities. Satisfying Consumer Concerns: Increased media attention to business role in protecting human rights has led to increased consumer awareness of the treatment of workers producing goods for the global marketplace and demands for social accountability.

Building Community Goodwill : A multinationals presence can be viewed locally as positive or negative. Avoiding human rights violations helps in maintaining positive community relations. Enhancing Risk Management : The denial of basic human rights often can lead to social or political dispruption. This in turn can cause labour strife, delays in production or movement of finished products etc. Keeping Markets Open : Companies can help to ensure that sanctions do not limit their ability to conduct business globally by promoting greater respect for human rights

Increasing Worker Productivity and Retention Maintaining the faith of employees and shareholders

Human Rights Most Blatant Violations The Bhopal Tragedy

December 2-3, 1984 : Methyl isocyanate gas leaks from Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, killing 2000 people instantly and 15000 people eventually. 5.72 lakh people have been maimed for life requiring life-long medical treatment Dec 4, 1984 : The Bhopal police files its FIR Dec 7, 1984 : UC chairman Warren Anderson and 8 others arrested. Released on bail of Rs. 25000 Dec 1, 1987 : The CBI files charge sheets against Anderson and 11 others, including UC (USA) and UCIL. July 6,1988 : A non-bailable warrant is issued against Anderson Feb , 1989 : While the issue of interim compensation is being heard before the SC, UC strikes a deal with the Indian government , under which the company pays a compensation of $470 million. In return , criminal charges are withdrawn against against the company. Several groups file petitions in the SC against the settlement. Oct 3, 1991 : SC revokes criminal immunity granted to UC and other accused. Also orders the government to construct a hospital for the victims. UC was asked to pay money for construction and to run it.

Human Rights Most Blatant Violations The Bhopal Tragedy

Feb 1,1992: after ignoring 4 court summons , Anderson is declared a fugitive August 1999 : Union Carbide announces a merger with Dow Chemical Company November 1999 : Several individual victims supported by some NGOs file a suit in a federal court in NewYork August 2000 : Federal Judge John Keenan dismisses suit February 2001 : Dow chemicals claims it is not responsible for a factory it didnt operate August 28, 2002 : The chief magistrate reaffirms charges and demands Andersons extradition May-June, 2003: The Government conveys its request for Andersons extradition to the US government

Human Rights Most Blatant Violations The Bhopal Tragedy

July 13, 2004: The US Government rejects Andersons extradition request on some technical grounds. The Indian Government for some reason does not push any harder. July 19, 2004: As a sign of resignation,the Supreme court orders the government to distribute the compensation money from Ucs settlement amount among the survivors October 26, 2004 : The Supreme Court approves a plan for the distribution of Rs. 1,567 crores among the 5.72 lakh victims The amount per victim works out to Rs. 27,395 which is not even sufficient to pay medical bills for a year.

Human Rights Most Blatant Violations Unilever The Culprit

In March 2001, Unilevers mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal was exposed for illegally dumping toxic mercury wastes in a scrapyard adjacent to a school behind the factory building. The Company had been doing this for several years unabated. Morover, workers and ex-workers were kept in the dark about the toxic nature of mercury- which was handled by the workers without any protective gear. Workers demanded their health records from the company in preparation for an independent medical assessment. Also demand for financial compensation for closure of the factory and a longterm plan for health monitoring and medication The company has ignored both demands. Instead, Unilever has stepped up the harassment by ordering relocation of the workers to a Unilever factory in Kandla, Gujarat. Workers who failed to relocate within the stipulated time were threatened with loss of pay or termination

Human Rights Most Blatant Violations The Bayer Case

Despite having been directed by the WHO to withdraw all WHO Class 1 chemical pesticides, BAYER continues to market pesticides like Methyl Parathion, Monocrotophos, Cypermetrin and 12 others . All these chemicals are known to cause cancer, disrupt human hormonal functions, that create birth deformities, cause liver, kidney and nervous damage and generally suppress human immunity.

BAYER has withdrawn these chemicals in its home country Germany, but continues to market them in India.