Advocating Together for the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

By Harriet Lamb, International Alert and Jan Klawitter, Anglo American

International Alert, a peacebuilding organisation with over 30 years’ experience, and Anglo American, one of the world’s leading mining companies, share how they are working together to advocate for more respect for human rights and greater understanding of conflict-sensitivity within the extractive sector.

Long gone are the days when companies and NGOS could barely talk to each other. NGO-private sector partnerships are now the order of the day, and governments increasingly hope that companies will help in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from poverty reduction to climate change.

But joint advocacy between companies and NGOs is still a rarer beast. Both sides are slightly uncomfortable about lobbying together for policy changes from other bodies. But maybe we could all benefit from pushing ourselves to be that little bit more uncomfortable.

That is why International Alert, a peacebuilding organisation with over 30 years’ experience, and Anglo American, one of the world’s leading mining companies, are working together to advocate for more respect for human rights and greater understanding of conflict-sensitivity within the extractive sector. 

Mining companies operating in fragile environments can help drive socio-economic development. But too often, they can also stoke conflict. Responsible companies in such environments need to understand the risks their operations can pose to local communities, protect their security and respect their rights, in addition to ensuring the safety and rights of their employees and contractors. This is obviously in the companies’ interest too as conflict poses risks to business continuity and reputation.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs), adopted in 2000, are designed specifically to help natural resources industries do this in a way that encourages respect for human rights. The VPs have won support from governments, business and civil society and align closely with SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Anglo American signed up to the VPs in 2005.  To support their effective implementation across the business, Anglo American subsequently established a long-term strategic partnership with International Alert in 2010.

Since then, the two organisations have worked together to ensure that the VPs are effectively embedded and operationalised within Anglo American and that the company is able to manage security and human rights issues according to those principles – an important aspect of the VPs is how a company manages its relationship with public security providers.  We have also undertaken joint advocacy, encouraging national governments to adopt and integrate the VPs into their national policy frameworks, with each organisation bringing credibility to the debate from their own perspective.

International Alert has shared its expertise on human rights and conflict with Anglo American, and supported it in engaging with operational managers, including in functions not directly dealing with security related human rights issues.

Joint advocacy has been focused at three different levels: Internally, it has primarily focused on building the capacity of employees to integrate the VPs into everyday business practices such as risk assessments and ensure an effective cross-functional approach. At the site level, International Alert has worked with senior managers to expand their understanding of human rights and conflict and how they connect to the business. International Alert also provides training to site-level private security providers.

At a sector level, Anglo American has helped to inform International Alert’s expertise on conflict-sensitive business practice (CSBP) and to develop International Alert’s recently published toolkit on Human Rights Due Diligence in Conflict-Affected Settings. By sharing its practical experiences honestly and openly, Anglo American has helped other mining companies to understand and apply the key concepts to their operating environments.

At a national level, Anglo American and International Alert have worked together to encourage government adoption of the VPs. Sometimes this has been more successful than other times. In South Africa, the two organisations jointly lobbied alongside other VPs members to persuade the government to adopt the VPs, but still wait to see this happen.

Implementing a global-level initiative like the VPs locally has been a challenge and has highlighted the need for cultural sensitivity and local interpretation. In each country, we have been careful to understand what the term “human rights” means to people, especially in countries with a legacy of human rights abuses. Engaging communities with a broad definition of human rights, rather than a specific focus on security, can help unearth underlying issues that may be a source of conflict in the future, for example access to water.

By building a trusted long-term strategic relationship, the collaboration has helped to redefine how Anglo American’s personnel – from the site to global level – understand how human rights and conflict connect to business and security. It has changed mindsets and behaviours by building a more nuanced understanding of the root causes of conflict. Moreover, the partnership has built management capacity and confidence to engage more proactively and openly with local communities, government and security forces, including in new areas of operation, on a wide range of human rights and security related issues. Equally Alert has learnt how long-term accompaniment with companies can promote sustainable change, as they allow us to build trust and gain insight into businesses’ practices, motivations and decision-making.

While the partnership has helped to significantly improve the controls on human rights relevant security risks, both partners recognise the need to invest more time in evaluating the impact of their joint activities. This is easier said than done, but having that impact information could also inspire other companies and governments to engage with the VPs.

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