The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) is an Oslo-based, internationally oriented human rights organisation. We support local human rights initiatives in the countries where we are engaged, run projects to document and fight impunity for gross violations of human rights and core international crimes, and work with networks of Parliamentarians that promote freedom of religion or belief. We advocate fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, the rule of law, and the importance of business companies adhering to human rights norms in their operations.
The NHC uses a range of methods, such as monitoring human rights violations, observing elections, developing documentation databases, education, and advocating for national governments and international organisations to place human rights first. We provide expert commentary to the media and submit alternative reports to relevant international human rights reviews. Through social media, we increase popular awareness, garner the political will to confront abuse, and increase respect for human rights.
A significant part of our activities is devoted to strengthening human rights organisations and defenders, whistle-blowers, journalists, and lawyers in Central and Eastern Europe and in the five Central Asian republics. We pay particular attention to individuals, groups and networks that are at risk.
Many of our activities take place in authoritarian states, where government policies and legislation restrict freedom of organisation, expression, assembly, religion, or belief, as well as rights to free and fair elections. The judiciary and media outlets in such states are under the control of the government.
Running business operations in authoritarian playing fields or where institutions are weak may create a range of dilemmas for companies that wish to ensure that human rights are respected in their operations and throughout their supply chain. This report presents and discusses such dilemmas in light of prevailing international human rights norms for business companies. Even companies with the best of intentions and policies may find themselves in situations where they face nothing but difficult choices.
This does not mean that companies must categorically stay away from such states. Instead, we argue that they should step up their support for human rights within their spheres of influence and publicly state their values and principles. Companies struggling to be faithful to their values due to government pressure and persecution need to be supported by democratic states, which, i.a., should introduce targeted sanctions against corrupt and brutal political leaders and their enablers who trample on human rights. In designing sanctions, the role of international companies should be considered.
Instead of companies leaving, they could remain and search for ways to improve the safety and rights of workers and support communities affected by their operations. In some situations, however, upholding respect for human rights can become so difficult that companies must leave to avoid compromising their values.
However, this should only happen after careful consideration of the costs and benefits of the alternatives.
In the report, we present cases of big Norwegian companies struggling to deal with dilemmas arising from precarious human rights situations and a lack of popular trust in the countries where they operate.
Should they leave or should they stay? There were no easy answers. But there may be better ways of doing both.