Companies have an enormous impact on people’s lives and the communities in which they operate. Sometimes the impact is positive - jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.
But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.
There are few effective mechanisms at national or international level to prevent corporate human rights abuses or to hold companies to account. Amnesty is working to change this.
States have a responsibility to protect human rights. However, many are failing to do this, especially when it comes to company operations - whether because of lack of capacity, dependence on the company as an investor or outright corruption.
Companies operating across borders are often involved in severe abuses, such as forced labour or forcibly relocating communities from their lands.
Unsurprisingly, abuses are particularly stark in the extractive sector, with companies racing against each other to mine scarce and valuable resources. Traditional livelihoods are destroyed as land is contaminated and water supplies polluted such as in Lanjigarh, Odisha. The impact can be particularly severe for Indigenous Peoples because their way of life and their identity is often closely related to their land.
Affected communities are frequently denied access to information about the impact of company operations. Meaning they are excluded from participating in decisions that affect their lives.
Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses. Despite laws in many countries that allow companies to be prosecuted, governments rarely even investigate corporate wrongdoing.
When communities’ attempt to get justice they are thwarted by ineffective legal systems, a lack of access to information, corruption and powerful state-corporate alliances. Worryingly, when the poor cannot secure justice, companies learn that they can exploit poverty without consequences.
What Amnesty is calling for
• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).
• Accountability: companies must be held to account for abuses they commit.
• Remedy: people whose rights have been abused by companies must be able to access justice and effective remedy.
• Protect rights beyond borders: companies operate across borders, so the law must also operate across borders to protect people’s rights.