Businesses and shareholders in companies doing business with Russian counterparts are being encouraged by an investor alliance to review possible connections to humanitarian and human rights violations being committed by Russia’s military forces in Ukraine and to consider divesting if such links are uncovered.
The Investor Alliance for Human Rights urged “businesses and investors to take all necessary measures to ensure that their activities do not cause or contribute to violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, especially against civilians affected by the conflict.”
Anita Dorett, alliance director, said complying with the wide-ranging economic sanctions against Russia enacted by countries globally is but one step for investors to consider as they assess the actions of the companies in their financial portfolios.
“You need to think about what else you need to do. To comply with a sanction, it doesn’t end there,” Dorett told Catholic News Service March 4.
“What we want to do as responsible investors is to make sure we don’t just comply with local (country specific) laws (regarding sanctions), but that we also comply with international human rights laws around the world,” Dorett said.
The alliance is an initiative of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a New York-based coalition of dozens of faith-based institutions, labor unions, pension funds, asset managers, foundations, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations that utilize shareholder activism to guide corporate business practices.
In an alert to investor partners March 3, the alliance said compliance with sanctions and export controls on Russian entities and individuals “should not be interpreted as fulfillment of business’ and investors’ responsibilities under the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”
Citing the widespread devastation and growing human toll in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began Feb. 24, the alliance said these principles “require enhanced due diligence to identify business and investment ties to the Russian state, their affiliated companies, and other entities/individuals that are arming, financing, resourcing, or otherwise contributing to Russian violations of humanitarian and human rights laws.”
Disseminated in 2011, the principles outline the obligations of nations to “respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms”; the role of businesses in complying with laws and respecting human rights; and the need for remedies when rights are violated.
Dorett said steps to weigh divestment are complex, with investors required to consider how workers and consumers may be affected by such a decision.
The alert pointed to companies in the weapons, financial, extractives and technology sectors as being “particularly at risk” of violating humanitarian and human rights laws.
Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt, the initiative’s associate program director, told CNS that investors are being encouraged to consider “freedom of expression” as a factor in their portfolio reviews as well.
For companies in Ukraine, she explained the assessment would review protections for workers and families. In Russia, she said, the consideration shifts to ensuring that workers “can exercise their freedom of expression to potentially protest against this active aggression.”
“It’s also about allowing and creating space for those who want to vocalize their opposition to this war to be able to do so without any form of retaliation,” she said.
The alert urged companies and investors “to initiate and participate in efforts to use their collective leverage to publicly voice and push for humanitarian and human rights law protections.”
“We also encourage them to support humanitarian efforts with appropriate local and international partners to improve conditions for communities and those affected by the violence,” it said.