This website introduces a framework of corporate strategies to avoid responsibility for corporate human rights violations that are identified in practice. [include motivation] . It contends that these strategies create, maintain, and exploit so called ‘governance gaps’, and thereby sustain a system in which victims continue to draw the short end.

The main purpose of this website is to expose the corporate strategies that are most commonly used by companies to avoid responsibility or being held accountable for human rights abuses. As such, this website does not center on the impacts associated with business activity, but rather on the strategies utilised to avoid responsibility for those harms. We thus shift the usual focus of the human rights community from business-related adverse human rights impacts to corporate strategies to avoid responsibility for those impacts.

The developers of this research take the position that companies should ideally bear the societal costs of their profit-making strategies themselves, instead of passing those on to society and the environment. Our aims in exposing these strategies are threefold: (1) to motivate duty-bearers to close the governance gaps that allow these strategies to be applied; (2) to motivate companies to cease exploiting these gaps; (3) and to help civil society organisations and rights holders become more aware of these strategies and learn how to counter them. 

A broken system

Across the globe, communities and workers are engaged in protracted struggles to protect and defend their human rights and demand justice in relation to corporate misconduct. Even when their struggles receive international attention, many of these conflicts remain unresolved and linger on for years, sometimes decades. Why are business-related human rights abuses so commonplace? And why do many remain unresolved?

The root cause of the problem is commonly identified as ‘governance gaps’ between corporate influence and corporate accountability.[1] In today’s globalised economy, governance gaps provide the permissive environment, or even the incentive structure, for harmful business conduct.

Competition for resources and markets drives companies to those production locations where labour is cheap, or to resource-rich places where governance is often weak or, alternatively, ruled by an oppressive authoritarian regime. In vulnerable contexts where government oversight may be weak, absent, or not attuned to community interests, conflicts between companies, communities, and workers may easily arise. Resolving such conflicts is resource-intensive and often means the company risks losing money, markets, and time, at least in the short term. In many cases, it is not in the interest of individual companies to resolve these conflicts, at least where competitors are not doing the same. To the contrary, it is mostly in a company’s interest to sustain the status quo and escape responsibility for the harms.

Harmful corporate behaviour reinforces the system

The existence of these governance gaps is not accidental. Many gaps are linked to systemic barriers to justice that are being sustained– or have been designed– by corporations themselves. Corporate executives, lawyers, lobbyists, accountants, and auditors develop and deploy strategies aimed at , maintaining, and exploiting gaps, as well as consolidating legal and economic power, privilege, and . These strategies are meant to ensure that corporations can continue to operate with impunity. Though understandable from the business perspective, the result is that remedy remains out of reach for many victims of corporate human rights abuses.

Research approach

Business-related human rights impacts are often a by-product of a company’s strategy[2] to maximise profits, increase competitiveness, or reduce risk.[3] These human rights impacts can be viewed as ‘costs’ generated by the company, but externalised to society. In order to keep these costs external and continue operation without bearing responsibility for those HRIs, corporations may employ particular strategies. These strategies operate in parallel with the corporations’ primary strategies to generate profit, and are designed to control the corporate environment and avoid responsibility for – and the costs related to– human rights impacts.

[1] John Ruggie, “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development: Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary- General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises” (Human Rights Council, April 7, 2008).

[2] Andrews KR, ‘The Concept of Corporate Strategy’ in Nicolai J Foss (ed), Resources, Firms, and Strategies: A Reader in the Resource-based Perspective (Oxford University Press 1997).

[3] Grant RM, Contemporary Strategy Analysis: Text and Cases Edition (John Wiley & Sons 2016) 39.