UK call to companies in conflict zones

June 19 2012: Henry Bellingham MP, Britain’s Minister for Conflict Issues, explains how mining companies can improve their impact in conflict areas

Respect for human rights is crucial to ensuring companies avoid contributing to fragility or conflict, and creates more stable and sustainable markets.
The UK Government is working hard to support UK companies in identifying and pursuing commercial opportunities abroad, sometimes in fragile and conflict-affected states. Our commitment to resolving conflict and upholding human rights around the world means we are equally determined to ensure that UK companies operate responsibly and play a positive role in contributing to development, stability and economic growth. Respect for human rights is crucial to ensuring companies avoid contributing to fragility or conflict, and creates more stable and sustainable markets. The private sector not only has a moral imperative but also a commercial interest in helping prevent human rights abuses and conflict.

One practical way that we are encouraging companies in the oil, mining and gas sector to demonstrate their commitment to corporate responsibility is by encouraging them to adopt and implement the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs). Established by the UK and the US in 2000, these principles provide guidance to extractive companies on how to manage their security operations in a way that reduces the risk of localised human rights abuses and conflict.

The VPs arena also provides a safe space for discussion and collaborative working between extractive companies, NGOs and governments. Companies benefit greatly from establishing closer working relationships with NGOs. This provides them with insights and access to local communities, which can help minimise tensions and enable constructive dialogue. VPs companies and NGOs are working closely together on the ground to apply the VPs in countries as diverse as Colombia and Tanzania, through activities such as human rights training for public and private security companies, and ensuring that companies’ security operations are compatible with local laws and customs.

Our aim is to increase further the impact of the VPs on corporate human rights responsibility.
Although many of the world’s major extractive companies are already VPs members, our aim is to increase further the impact of the VPs on corporate human rights responsibility. I recently invited a number of key London Stock Exchange-listed extractive companies to a meeting at the Foreign Office where I encouraged them to join the VPs. Companies agreed that while respecting human rights standards was important, operating responsibly also provided commercial advantages by creating more stable operating environments and more sustainable markets.

To ensure the VPs’ continued effectiveness as a human rights and conflict prevention tool, we also need more governments to sign up, particularly from countries that are rich in oil, gas and mineral resources. VPs governments can help companies live up to their commitments by providing advice and facilitating dialogue with security forces and civil society, as well as creating the legislative framework that supports corporate responsibility. The VPs is focussing therefore on persuading more governments across Africa, South America, Asia-Pacific and Europe to join.

As the international focus on the private sector’s role in supporting stability and development intensifies, it is becoming increasingly important to provide companies with practical ways to meet human rights standards. The VPs are an important example of a practical tool which can help extractive companies minimise the risks of becoming involved in human rights abuses and contribute positively to peace building in local communities. That is why I am determined the UK should continue to support the VPs, so that this initiative makes a real difference to building stability and prosperity in countries and communities across the world where UK extractive companies are operating.

For more information on the VPs, including current membership, see www.voluntaryprinciples.org

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