Business as usual? Some new developments in evaluation of corporate human rights accountability
2 March 2015
Massive transnational corporate investment and growth in the private sector has helped turn Peru into one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. But lurking behind this positive trend, is a harsh reality of grievous human rights abuse committed by corporations against the people to whom they should be accountable.
Human rights defenders like Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, an outspoken critic of the Yanacocha mining project expansion in Cajamarca, understand all too well the potential consequences of opposing new extractive projects; recently, security forces (allegedly associated with the company) physically assaulted Máxima and her family to ensure their compliance with plans to expand the project.
Within the international governance community, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which the UNHRC endorsed in 2011, delineate the responsibilities that the business community and nation-state have both to prevent future abuses and to remedy past human rights violations. Combined with the efforts of Peru’s NGO and activist communities, as well the work of the National Human Rights Ombudsman office (Defensoría del Pueblo), businesses and government actors in Peru are changing the ways they conceive of their human rights responsibilities.
However, although President Ollanta Humala promised in 2011 to improve government intervention in human rights conflicts, national action remains severely limited by a pervading concern that imposing sanctions on corporations for human rights violations could diminish international investment flows into the country.
Moving forward, it is important to identify and remove institutional barriers both in the corporate and national governance worlds that currently militate against adequate respect of human rights and prevent the remedy of past violations. So far, business and human rights research has focused almost exclusively on individual case studies to identify these barriers, rather than aggregate data collection and analysis.
A large-sample quantitative study of Peru’s business and human rights climate via the newly developed Corporations and Human Rights Database helps fill this research gap. It includes data on 116 allegations of human rights abuse by businesses, and includes information on company and government responses to specific allegations as well as efforts to remedy violations. In future, the CHRD will provide information on the comparative impact of government institutions, voluntary corporate initiatives, international norms and civil society activism on the remedy of abuses (whether through monetary compensation, apology or other forms of restitution).
The CHRD will also generate new ideas on how to ensure higher standards of accountability for businesses in Peru, including reforms in public policy and business self-regulation to ensure that the human rights of communities in Peru are not sacrificed in the name of economic growth.
Kathryn Babineau, University of Oxford