Category Archives: News

We’re watching the wrong companies responding to the Muslim Travel Ban EO

UBER faced major blowback for the Muslim Ban. It's not one of the companies we should be watching.

All the press about companies and the “Muslim Ban” have missed a deeper story. Corporations involved in implementing the ban have been almost entirely silent about it.

That’s why NomoGaia has reached out to 59 of the largest. Our list includes telecom companies, hotel companies, IT intelligence gathering companies and others that take billions of dollars in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) every year to implement DHS programs.

Business and the Muslim Travel Ban

Corporate leaders have been notably visible in the debate over President Trump’s Executive Order restricting travel to the US from seven majority-Muslim nations. UBER lost 200,000 subscriptions in less than a week, after its CEO was perceived to be supportive of the President’s action.

Facing public pressure, he has since withdrawn from an advisory panel, donated $3 million to a legal fund to support immigrants and refugees affected by the ban, and signed Uber on to a legal brief opposing the ban.

That legal brief has been signed by 97 companies, noting that “immigrants or their children founded more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list.”

The brief does not note that some of those companies, including Boeing and AT&T, are also major contractors to the Department of Homeland Security, which is the department predominantly tasked with implementing the ban.

Is Doing Business with DHS a Violation of Human Rights?

That puts Boeing and AT&T, and the thousands of other companies contracted by DHS to run its operations, in a tricky position. They are beneficiaries of DHS largesse, they carry out or facilitate much of DHS’s work, but they have human rights policies that obligate them not to violate rights.

There is no legitimate argument that the travel ban respects human rights. The High Commissioner on Human Rights and a large collection of Special Rapporteurs on human rights have made the case directly. The law suits against the Travel Ban Executive Order also hinge on questions of discrimination, injustice and freedom of religion.

What Companies are Actually Doing to Avoid Complicity in Human Rights Abuses from the Travel Ban

NomoGaia has reached out to over 50 of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest contractors, asking them to weigh in on their responsibilities in the face of the ban.

We will publish our results next month. In the meantime, a preliminary review of public statements reveals something notable: of the thousands of companies doing business with the Department of Homeland Security, only Microsoft and HP have spoken out directly in opposition to the Travel Ban. Yet HP did not join the 97-company Amicus Brief opposing the ban. Neither did major DHS contractors IBM, AT&T, Boeing or Verizon.

Microsoft alone has put its words into action, signing on to directly support the Washington Attorney General’s law suit against the Executive Order.

Trump & Brexit Might Make Companies Better Global Citizens

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Last week, while US President-Elect Donald Trump proposed dismantling financial reforms and vastly curtailing government spending and regulations, business and bank representatives from across the US and across the globe were gathered in Geneva, to talk about how businesses could better protect human welfare.

For the fifth straight year, the UN hosted hundreds of corporate leaders at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to talk about human rights. In addition to the corporate representatives, affected rightsholders, academics, activists, government officials, lawyers, consultants and researchers gather en masse, crowding into lecture halls and auditoriums for three straight days.

This is a strange year for business and human rights. Much of the momentum built in the US since NomoGaia was founded in 2008 may be reversed. The Dodd Frank clauses addressing conflict minerals and extractive industries payments to governments are allegedly heading to the chopping block. The revamping and restaffing of the US offices of a mediation tool for holding companies to account for human rights abuses committed abroad is unlikely to retain its recently increased funding.

Yet companies are not, apparently, ready to reverse course on business and human rights. ExxonMobil sent a representative to the UN forum for the first time this year. Newmont made its 5th straight appearance. Coke and Pepsi featured on no fewer than three panels – Coke co-hosted daily coffee breaks with Microsoft.

NomoGaia isn’t in the habit of cheerleading for companies that “just show up” to discussions, but we are at a juncture when showing up might actually be important. Until 2016, US and UK governments supported globalization and urged transnational corporations to operate with respect. With a UK vote for Brexit and a US vote for President Trump, globalization is now facing a powerful backlash, and while multinational corporations know they will continue to operate internationally, they do not necessarily know they’ll be compelled to operate responsibly.

Will they do it anyway? A lot of business and human rights talk is window dressing at this point. Companies write elegant policy statements but don’t staff themselves to implement relevant procedures to adhere to them. Procurement officers write detailed supplier contracts but fail to investigate whether suppliers can, let alone will, meet their commitments.

There’s a sign of promise, though. After the three-day Forum, the Danish Institute for Human Rights convened a practitioners workshop on Human Rights Impact Assessment. The aim was to create consensus on how corporate impacts on actual rightsholders can be meaningfully evaluated and mitigated. NomoGaia presented case studies and methodological advancements. Practitioners committed to presenting a united front to companies about what it really takes to get it right. The European Investment Bank, the largest lender to low-income countries in all of Europe, has asked to learn more.

Changes are coming for business and human rights. What type of global citizens companies will be in the new landscape will not likely be determined by governments. Banks like the EIB, and practitioners of human rights due diligence may need to rise to the occasion.

How a handshake can hurt a company’s human rights record

The CEO of Nevsun, and the President of Eritrea

The growing importance of human rights to businesses

According to a recent BSR/GlobeScan survey, human rights are the single greatest sustainability concern for businesses. The Economist Intelligence Unit and UN Global Compact have also tracked growth in corporate concern about human rights.

The reason, as explained by business leaders themselves, because human rights touches every aspect of a business’s operations, and every dimension of a person’s welfare. It is, in the words of former UN Working Group on Human Rights and Business chair Margaret Jungk, “the essence of sustainability.”

The challenges that come with being “the essence of sustainability”

It is partly this all-encompassing nature of human rights that has made it so difficult for companies to manage. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, companies struggle to locate human rights in any one department of their existing management structure. It is not well placed within the legal, community relations, human resources, security or environmental departments, but it has a role in all of those.

Likewise, companies have found it challenging to tackle a single human rights issue at a time (look at child labor in the cocoa industry – sparking outrage for 15 years now and a persistent priority for the likes of Hershey, Mars and Nestle).

Beyond those challenges, companies with complex business relationships face unique hurdles. Companies with large supply chains are increasingly held accountable for the human rights violations committed by their suppliers. Financial institutions are being asked to ensure that their loans and equity agreements do not violate human rights. Companies partnering with governments are called on to avoid being complicit in the human rights violations of the host states with which they do business.

How to make it easier for companies

Companies need a clearer way to identify the risks of their business relationships. This is a two-step process. First, they need a screening tool to identify the contexts and operations that, in their very nature, pose the greatest risk of implicating the company in human rights risks. Second, they need a risk assessment tool that can be carried out quickly and efficiently, and which incorporates the perspectives of rightsholders.

Human Rights Risk Assessment

We’ve been building these tools. The screen will come live as an app early next year. The Human Rights Risk Assessment (HRRA) tool will be out next month. What we’ve produced below is a “business person’s guide to HRRA.” It is directed at corporate actors concerned about human rights and business relationships. It explains the point and process of HRRA, so that companies can be informed and proactive in seeking the help they need from qualified human rights practitioners.

Have a read and tell us what you think: info@nomogaia.org

Trick or Treat? Palm Oil Makes Halloween Candy Both

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This week zoos have put out a warning to the fans of their primate exhibits – if you love Orangutans, make sure your Halloween candy isn’t ruining their habitat. Palm oil is now a major ingredient in candy. Unsustainably farmed, it increase forest fire risks and destruction of natural forests in the Orangutan’s native lands of Indonesia and Borneo.

But Orangutans aren’t the only ones affected by palm oil. Palm oil demand has exploded recently, and its production has been expanding across the globe. NomoGaia spent much of 2016 looking at palm oil in Liberia for a sense of how this expansion changes the risks (and opportunities) for palm oil as a responsible crop.

The good news:

There are no orangutans at risk in Liberia.

The bad news:

That might be part of the reason the major human rights risks of palm oil operations in Liberia are flying under the radar. Issues that have been flagged for the palm oil sector in Indonesia and Malaysia don’t necessarily apply in growing palm oil markets like Liberia, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.

Examining the Humans at Risk: 

While piloting a methodology for Human Rights Risk Assessment, NomoGaia evaluated the risks of one particular plantation in Liberia: The Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) plantation owned by Malaysia’s KLK palm oil company.

Risk assessment only looks at the risks of an operation, not the potential benefits, so the findings only reflect the actual and potential adverse outcomes of EPOs operations. The risks are many: wages for subcontractors are unlivable, housing conditions are unsanitary, working conditions are unsafe and troubled relations with communities have been soured by delayed implementation of promised benefits.

Read the risk assessment here, and contact us for more information if you’re interested!

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