Corruption and human rights go hand in hand

25th June 2021

By Amelia Pace, Project & Executive Officer

WHERE THERE ARE CORRUPTION RISKS THERE ARE OFTEN ALSO HUMAN RIGHT RISKS

It’s time for business to break down silos and recognise the intersection between corruption and human rights. This was the clear message from the ‘SDG16 at the Intersection of Anti-Corruption and Human Rights’ session at the United Nations Global Compact Network 2021 Leaders’ Summit on the 16th of June.

Corruption is considered a victimless or faceless crime. But it is not. In a crisis we usually not only see a spike in corruption and bribery, but also in human right abuses. The Covid-19 pandemic has been no different. With infrastructure and mining sectors leading economic recovery for many countries, businesses need to make sure that the increased speed and scale of projects does not result in increased human rights risks. We are seeing worrying trends of approvals being fast tracked, an increase in discretionary decision making, and social and environmental impact statements lacking rigour.

As more countries focus on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, more investment will be required in critical minerals. As demand for these materials grows, businesses will increasingly be pushed into high-risk jurisdictions, which have poor human rights records and high corruption risks. An example given by TIA’s CEO Serena Lillywhite in the session, was that 70% of the world’s cobalt reserves are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In TI’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, the DRC ranked very low at 170/180 and with a score of 18/100 (100 being most clean). In addition, human rights groups have documented severe human rights issues in mining operations in the DRC, particularly due to the presence of artisanal and small-scale mining. This includes violation of a miners right to safe and healthy working conditions, as they are exposed to toxic pollution which is causing birth defects in their children. Globally, the pandemic has also made it even more difficult for meaningful consultation, and on the ground due diligence and spot checks to occur. This example clearly demonstrates how corruption risks can intersect with human rights risks.

THERE IS NOT ENOUGH BEING DONE BY BUSINESS BOTH IN AUSTRALIA AND GLOBALLY TO RECOGNISE THE NEXUS

The session highlighted that businesses aren’t doing enough to integrate human rights risk management into corruption management. This is despite the intersection being recognised at an international level, such as through the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Domestic governments are also failing to consider this nexus beyond modern slavery legislation, and like the private sector, often have a siloed approach. The presenters suggested that more needs to be done to identify, mitigate and address adverse human rights impacts, beyond risks to a business.

BUSINESSES NEED TO INTEGRATE HUMAN RIGHTS INTO THEIR CORRUPTION MANAGEMENT

A key takeaway from the session, was that prevention of corruption and human right violations is always better and more cost effective than dealing with the fallout. In addition, being proactive often pays off for a business, as the regulatory environment will play catch up with ethical concerns and social pressures on the rise. Only when human right considerations are included and a business goes beyond what is currently legislated, will they have a complete risk profile and be able to act responsibly. This is particularly important given the trend of shifting the burden of proof to businesses when a violation occurs. Businesses need to ensure there is a culture of good decision making and data collection, to make sure adequate procedure requirements can be met.

THESE ARE PRACTICAL STEPS THAT BUSINESSES CAN TAKE TO BRIDGE THEIR WORK

It was recommended that corruption specialists need to engage more closely with human rights specialists, to enable them to move beyond just a risk and compliance lens. Managing human rights risks usually sits with community engagement personnel, while managing corruption risks sits with compliance teams. There needs to be much more collaboration between the two teams within an organisation. This should help develop a shared understanding of a country’s political context, corruption and human rights risks and impacts on the ground, including any gendered impacts. Human rights specialists would also benefit from a better understanding of corruption and bribery red flags. It is also vital that consideration is given to the role of meaningful consultation and consent. This should include the use of grievance mechanisms (both judicial and non-judicial) to address both human rights and corruption complaints and to ensure access to remedy for those impacted.  Senior leadership and the board also need to be educated on the nexus between human rights and corruption.Having staff that understand both human rights impacts and corruption risks is invaluable.

Businesses need both a corruption and human rights due diligence process, whereby they identify, prevent and address their adverse human rights impacts. This is the only way to ensure full realisation and enjoyment of human rights and help tackle corruption.

Photo 1: Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Photo 2: International Rivers

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