Can corporate action contribute to human rights, peace, and conflict prevention?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered not only massive economic and financial sanctions imposed on Russia, but also a significant but incomplete exit of multinational corporations from Russia. This exit has been driven by varying degrees of ethical as well as reputational considerations but has stalled as companies cite operational and legal dilemmas. Nonetheless important precedents have been set that may make companies—and their investors—more conscious and responsible actors in conflict situations. Companies and investors alike may integrate longstanding political risk analysis with emerging human rights due diligence to inform decisions whether to remain in certain countries. They may also consider human rights and humanitarian factors both to ensure a responsible exit and to determine possible post-conflict re-entry in ways that can contribute to peace and prevent further conflict. Such commitments and actions can encourage a new geopolitical corporate responsibility to support the rules-based order that defines the international community and underpins the global economy—and in turn enables the cooperation critical to alleviating inequality and diminishing the climate crisis.
An innovative leader and standard-setter for responsible business and investment, Bennett Freeman has co-founded multi-stakeholder initiatives and coalitions focused on the extractives, technology and apparel sectors. Bennett holds degrees in History from the University of California at Berkeley (1979) and Oxford (1981; English-Speaking Union Scholar, Balliol). He served as a Clinton presidential appointee in three positions at the US Department of State, including as deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour from 1999-2001. He was senior VP for sustainability research and policy at Calvert Investments, 2006-15. As principal of Bennett Freeman Associates LLC, he currently advises multinational corporations, international institutions and NGOs on policy and strategy related to human rights and labour rights. He was the lead author of Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders (2018) and is an Associate Fellow of the International Law Programme at Chatham House.
Bennett is a co-founder and Steering Committee member of Business for Ukraine (B4Ukraine), a coalition that seeks to complete the exit of foreign companies from Russia and to set higher standards for human rights due on the part of companies and investors in conflict situations—and in turn to contribute to a new ethic of geopolitical corporate responsibility to support the international rules-based order.