Discussion on business and human rights in conflict and post-conflict settings

​​​​​​​​Sally Abou Melhem <sa256@aub.edu.lb>​ Office of Communications

An open multi-stakeholder discussion around business and human rights in conflict and post-conflict settings took place at AUB’s Maamari Auditorium. The event was convened by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, with the support of the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB) at AUB, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). It is the first of several regional consultations organized by the UN working group, which is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to promote worldwide implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

"We are happy to see the OSB community fully engaged in human rights concerns from the business standpoint. There is much to learn, share, and advocate as we seek to better communicate on the role of business," said OSB Dean Steve Harvey.

Background
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide the authoritative global framework for the respective duties and responsibilities of governments and businesses to prevent and address business-related adverse human rights impacts. They apply to all companies across different sectors, geographies, and contexts. 

As part of this mandate, the working group launched a project, with the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, to clarify the practical steps that states, companies, and investors should take to prevent and address business-related human rights abuse in conflict and post-conflict contexts. The project is informed by a series of multi-stakeholder consultations to be held in several regions in 2019-20, comprehensive research, and submissions by stakeholders. The final recommendations will be presented to the UN General Assembly in New York in October 2020. 

“Doing business in conflict zones can be ethically perilous. In order to continue operating, companies often are forced to take measures which support oppressive forces, inadvertently having a negative effect on the peace, equality, and human rights of host-country citizens. This issue needs much closer examination on the world stage,” said Dr. Jay Joseph, assistant professor at OSB. He added that “as protracted conflicts continue across the MENA region, further examination is required concerning the ethical obligations, roles, and responsibilities of companies operating in these regions, and what their moral duty is.”

The Beirut regional consultation
At the Beirut regional consultation, the discussion was open to representatives of academia, civil society, private sector, government, international organizations, and trade unions, providing an opportunity to learn about the working group’s mandate and project, the relevance of the UN Guiding Principles to conflict contexts, and to contribute to the project.

The consultation was led by UN Working Group member Anita Ramasastry and aimed to learn from recent experiences in conflict-affected areas across the MENA region. It covered key issues such as current practice and challenges, looking at actions in terms of currently available options and new ideas, and looking ahead and securing a responsible future.

“This, and similar gatherings, are fundamentally important today. More and more, as global governance, societal wellbeing, and regional stability are eroded, and as we see environmental vulnerability increasingly apparent, we must ask business leaders ‘What are you doing about it?’,” said Dr. Charlotte Karam, associate professor at OSB​, commenting on the event. “This gathering brings together regional industry and thought leaders to think together about identifying, preventing, and mitigating the impacts of human rights violations,” she added. “Let’s face it; embedding human rights into business strategy is long overdue as a business imperative globally. Let us lead the way through our businesses across the region.”