3.3. Business, Human Rights and Security Challenges in Complex Environments

Chair: Dr Alan Bryden

Panellists: Ms Tamara Wiher-Fernandez, Mr Hanspeter Heinrich, Mr Claude Voillatl

Rapporteur: Ms Lucía Hernández, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces

Companies working in complex environments face many security challenges around their areas of operations. These challenges can undermine the safety and security of their operations and staff while also affecting the human rights of local communities. How companies engage with public and private security, as well as their management and oversight bodies, is therefore of crucial importance. Business and human rights, security sector reform (SSR) as well as the wider security and development communities have developed various policy frameworks, tools and programming approaches. However, there is a clear need to build bridges between these different communities. This panel discussion focused on identifying opportunities and challenges to better integrating SSR policy and practice into multi-stakeholder efforts by companies, states and civil society organisations to promote security and human rights when companies operate in complex environments. It addressed the following three key questions:

In what areas do options exist to ensure greater coordination and collaboration between security sector reform (SSR) and business & human rights actors and activities? How can multi-stakeholder initiatives support these efforts?

Panellists agreed that an excellent opportunity to realize synergies between these two fields would be for companies to support existing SSR programmes developed by international donors focused on key areas of concern for corporate security such as vetting and training of public security forces. Companies could also collaborate more systematically with judicial authorities in case of human rights abuses. One panellist added that, where they exist, local security councils also offer valuable entry points for joint discussions and potential collaboration between SSR and business & human rights actors.

Multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs), can support these efforts by providing a space for dialogue, trust-building and mutual learning around security and human rights issues. They also facilitate the development of partnerships between different stakeholders to address security and human rights challenges and offer opportunities for capacity building of security actors. 

Is there a role for businesses to support SSR processes as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts and what are the challenges to aligning these agendas in practice?

All panellists agreed that there is a role for businesses to support SSR processes as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts, but highlighted the need to take into account the risks and sensitivities around corporate involvement or influence on security issues. In particular, companies tend to be reluctant to commit to long-term programmes and want to maintain control and ownership, which is against the principle of local ownership. Furthermore, companies often limit the focus of their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts to the company’s sphere of influence around the project. Panellists also noted that companies’ involvement in SSR processes could be perceived as the government outsourcing their security responsibilities to a private entity or public security being improved for the exclusive benefit of the company rather than for all the population. An additional challenge could be the reluctance of companies to coordinate with their competitors. Finally, companies may hesitate to engage in SSR programmes because there is no guarantee that these will succeed and any potential failures may cause a backlash against the company.

Training and oversight of security forces are key areas for both SSR and Business & Human Rights: How can companies support a more professionalised public security force without this being perceived as undue influence?

By supporting existing SSR programmes and working through multi-stakeholder initiatives companies can reduce the risk of perceptions of undue influence. Furthermore, working with local partners, ensuring local ownership and adopting sustainable approaches (e.g. “Train-the-Trainers” approach) can help to overcome mistrust and reinforce credibility. However, one panelist noted that it is important to remember that training, or any other activity, by itself does not work. Companies need to understand the environment in which they operate and take all necessary actions to lessen their negative impacts and maximize their positive impacts.

The panel concluded highlighting the role that multi-stakeholder initiatives and public-private partnerships can play in facilitating greater collaboration between the SSR and business and human rights fields to deal with sensitive business and security issues. Companies are increasingly realizing that to ensure long-term business viability and profitability it is important to address security and human rights, as well as social and environmental issues, from the start of operations. By taking a proactive approach in collaboration with SSR actors companies will be better able to prevent, or at least mitigate, many security risks and challenges and improve respect for human rights around their operations.