Why conflict must be included in mandatory due diligence laws

Legislation on human rights due diligence has exploded in recent years. However, there is a concerning gap in many of these laws, including the EU’s new proposal: the absence of provisions on conflict and security issues.

In conflict-affected contexts, businesses face acute risks of involvement or complicity in human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Many such impacts are unintended, as businesses inadvertently contribute to grievances and drivers of conflict. As a result, conflict-sensitive due diligence is critically important.

Security management is a particularly high-risk area for human rights issues. In complex environments and conflict-affected areas, businesses often hire private security to protect their personnel and assets. Other times, their operations are directly protected by public security forces, which presents complex challenges when the state is a party to a conflict. Risks around the use of force, security staff involvement in hostilities, and company-community conflict are heightened in conflict-affected contexts where tensions are already high. And the consequences of abuses and incidents can be even more severe.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call on businesses to take extra care when operating in conflict-affected contexts: ‘Because the risk of gross human rights abuses is heightened in conflict-affected areas, States should help ensure that business enterprises operating in those contexts are not involved with such abuses.’ As part of this principle, states should ensure that ‘their current policies, legislation, regulations and enforcement measures are effective in addressing the risk of business involvement in gross human rights abuses.

The Ukraine crisis is on everyone’s mind; it also happens to be a good example of why such provisions are important. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ukraine exported €19.1 billion in raw materials, machinery, chemical products and other goods to the EU. Ukrainian goods and services are key components in EU companies’ supply chains. When the recent conflict broke out, EU-based companies were quick to provide humanitarian aid ...

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