human rights & business (and a few other things)

Eurovision Fever

While for many of us the Eurovision song contest has always been just an opportunity to spend a fun night with friends, this year the contest has taken an unexpected turn. This is because it is held in Azerbaijan following the victory of the unfortunately named Eldar and Nigar with their rather insipid song Running Scared at the 2011 contest.

As reported by Amnesty International, in Azerbaijan journalists and human rights defenders are regularly attacked, blackmailed and imprisoned and the use of torture is widespread. The Eurovision contest provides a good opportunity to shed light on this country and the abuses perpetrated there.

In a move similar to what they had done for the Bahrain Grand Prix last month, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has asked the corporate sponsors of the event to comment on the human rights situation and the fact that through sponsoring they indirectly support the rulers in Baku.

Some of the responses provided are interesting and it seems to me that at least some sponsors, such as Schwarzkopf/Henkel, are not completely comfortable with their sponsoring.

I hope to see more responses in the next 24 hours and, I admit, I also look forward to the contest itself!

Job offer: Anglophone Southern & Western Africa Researcher & Representative

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is recruiting an Anglophone Southern & Western Africa Researcher & Representative, based in South Africa, to work 21 hours per week.

The closing date for applications is 3 July 2012.

Capital Punishment: the Business of Death

On Tuesday I was invited on the TV show The Stream on Al Jazeera to discuss the recent rise in executions in the Middle East, despite strong evidence from the United Nations and organisations such as Amnesty International that the use of the death penalty is gradually decreasing worldwide, year after year. In another post on Jurist I focused specifically on the death penalty in Iraq and suggested a strategy to limit the number of executions there.

During the show, the main guest (Eric Goldstein from Human Rights Watch) and I responded to the usual arguments advanced by those who favour the death penalty: that victims of violent crimes deserve revenge, that the death penalty is a strong deterrent and that religious considerations require Islamic (or for that matter Christian) states to retain it.

One area which was not touched upon during the show has to do with the business of death, in other words the sale of goods used by states to kill people and in particular the sale of lethal injections drugs. This is a complex legal and moral issue, which brings together my two favourite topics, the death penalty and business and human rights.

The issue came to the fore last year when Danish pharmaceutical company Lundback Inc. requested that US states stop using one of its products, a barbiturate called Nembutal ®, in the process of putting people to death. Naari AG, a Swiss company, has recalled its own barbiturate from the US market after finding out that it was being used to kill prisoners sentenced to death.

The legal questions behind all this are fascinating. By selling these drugs the companies do not violate domestic law in the US since executions are legal, at least in certain states. In the technical sense, they do not violate the law of the country in which they are registered either, as all they do is making and selling the drug which has real medical uses. The companies mentioned above did not even know what the drug was used for. Holding the companies liable for complicity in the death of prisoners would be unfair to the companies and frankly quite a stretch. Yet, in Europe capital punishment is viewed as an outright violation of human rights and the companies have made clear that this is how they view it too.

In this context, in 2011 the European Union issued regulations to prevent EU countries from selling drugs to be used in lethal injections altogether as part of the EU policy against the death penalty. This is following the lead of the UK who had unilaterally taken the same decision.

The fact that some companies are voluntarily refraining from making money in this area and that the EU has stepped in has resulted in a current shortage of drugs in the United States which could prevent upcoming executions to take place. For me, it is great to see companies having initiated this movement (though arguably under pressure from their European customers) and taking strong moral stands on such an important and symbolic human rights question.

Traineeship in business and human rights in Brussels

Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office in Brussels is offering a traineeship in the area of Business and Human Rights starting in September.

Deadline for applications is 3 June.

New Report on Business and Human Rights in Ireland

The Irish Centre for Human Rights recently released a report on Business and Human Rights in Ireland. It covers the business and human rights international context, the UN Guiding Principles and their significance for Ireland as well as 12 practical recommendations for the Irish government.

The report is extremely well documented and contains interesting case studies. It was initially a discussion paper prepared by postgraduate students of the Centre under the supervision of Dr Shane Darcy and was revised following a one-day conference held in Galway on 24 March 2012 entitled Ireland and the United Nations Framework for Business and Human Rights, where I presented a paper on extraterritoriality in the area of business and human rights.

The report  has received national coverage, and will hopefully foster a debate on these issues in Ireland where a number of multinational companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook have their European headquarters.

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