Human rights can be defined as inalienable fundamental rights to which every person is entitled simply by virtue of their being human. Many claim that the concept of rights is strong within the scriptures; God’s endowing of human beings with his image means that humans have worth, and this is a source of rights. It can be discerned from the biblical narrative that God is wronged by injustice and has the right to hold humans accountable for injustice. Thus, for example, in Isaiah 1:17, the prophet says:
However we cannot read from the Bible an unequivocal endorsement for human rights as the scriptures originate from a time long before the development of a concept of intrinsic individual rights. Indeed it is suggested that there are no means of expression in Hebrew, Greek, Latin or Arabic for ‘a subjective right’ until about 1400 AD.
The emphasis in Jewish and Christian traditions of the uniqueness of the individual before God was a significant foundation in the development of modern formulation of human rights theory; diverse Christian influences before and during the 1940s played a prominent role as the institution of the United Nations was being created, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) drafted.
There is some divergence of opinion in many aspects of secular and religious human rights discourse, and this may have significance for the way companies approach and respond to human rights challenges, notably with respect to:
We can detect from the actions and statements of the Methodist Church a consistent desire for strengthened human rights protection. Statements relating to the rights of Palestinians and Jews in the Middle East, detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and water as a basic human right, are key examples. In 2008 the Joint Public Issues Team of the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Church, published a study/prayer resource to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Gross human rights abuses are not limited to conflict zones. However in the context of conflict, civil and political rights are particularly threatened. Belligerent parties to conflict (whether state parties or militias) frequently develop business interests or seek to control private enterprise in order to fund their political or military campaigns. Modern conflict all too frequently engulfs local communities through conscription, as hostages, direct targets, or as a result of the activities of criminal militias. When violent conflict comes to an end the parties to conflict may well retain significant influence in their communities. Companies need to be aware of conflict dynamics even after peace has been declared.
Whilst this Policy Statement concentrates on investment, human rights and conflict, it is recognised that companies may be exposed to other human rights risks as a result of their global operations or supply chains. These include:
The expansion of capital investment into new markets in recent decades poses many challenges. There is widespread acknowledgement that in many instances state legislation and institutional capacity for protecting human rights in these markets is insufficient. How the international and business community addresses these governance gaps is therefore a key issue.
We have the following reasonable expectations of companies, particularly those operating in conflict zones, with respect to their performance on human rights.
As concerned investors the CFB and the Methodist Church would seek open dialogue and engagement with companies on human rights policy and performance.
Engagement is the principal medium for seeking to bring about an improvement in a company’s policies and practice in respect of human rights.
In instances where there are material concerns, CFB will seek to evaluate, via engagement, the extent to which the specific concern may be indicative of:
If a company is unwilling to enter into serious dialogue, or to address legitimate, material concerns, JACEI may be asked to take a view on the acceptability of the investment, and ultimately recommend that CFB disinvests.
This might depend on the severity of the concerns in question. Failure to be responsive to a significant human rights issue falling within the fifth, sixth, eighth or ninth points in Para 4.1 above, could give sufficient cause for concern to lead to a decision to recommend disinvestment.