All posts by Safi

Business benefits from human rights violations, right? Wrong.


Authored with Carolyn Blacklock, Resident Representative, International Finance Corporation.


When one thinks of businesses operating in countries that are still struggling to protect and provide for human rights, a narrative can easily spring to mind involving unscrupulous businesses happily taking advantage of weak labor laws, a lack of minimum wage and poor environmental controls etc.

But, in many places, the reality is very different. Not only is the private sector itself adversely impacted by weak human rights protections but, more than this, businesses are themselves having to take up a leadership role in protecting human rights in order to compensate for weaknesses in governments’ actions.

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Do we need -and can we get- a binding agreement on human rights and business? Opinion Diverge during the UN Forum

This week, the United Nations held the 3rd annual Forum on Human Rights and Business in Geneva (Forum). The Forum is intended to provide a global platform for the implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a set of principles endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 that establish a framework of standards on the “responsibilities of States and businesses for preventing and addressing business-related human rights abuse.” The Guidelines include a set of thirty-one principles that are underpinned by three interrelated pillars:

  • the State duty to protect human rights,
  • the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and
  • the right of victims to access an effective remedy.

At the closing session of the Forum, panelists highlighted areas of achievements and also noted that implementation challenges of the Guiding Principles persist.  The Forum reported on a growing number of states taking real steps to implement the Guiding Principles, including through the development of National Implementation Plans on business and human rights; identified how corporations and business actors are taking practical steps to respect human rights; and noted that the Guiding Principles have been adopted by the World Bank and OECD, among others.

Continue reading Do we need -and can we get- a binding agreement on human rights and business? Opinion Diverge during the UN Forum

Can small business entrepreneurs in conflict countries provide for basic rights?

Protecting and promoting rights in conflict affected and post-conflict states is a tricky  order. These are places where violations and non-provision of basic rights- such as the right food, water or livelihoods opportunities -can be a defining character of the conflict dynamics. As part of our Special Series on Business and Human Rights, we look at how the private sector- in particular small business entrepreneurs-can play a critical role in the delivery of public goods and services essential to citizens’ enjoyment of their rights. 

Going where other actors fear to tread
Government institutions -due to capacity and revenue constraints- are often unable to deliver effectively and flexibly during the transition from violent conflict to peace, and while donor relief initiatives may be able to rapidly (at least somewhat more than government!) meet the basic needs of people affected by conflict, they often inadvertently distort private markets and create vulnerability and a long-lasting dependency on aid.

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What do Afghan Women Really Want?

Afghanistan is still one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman, and some critics warn that we are getting it wrong.

This is a message that will be hard to swallow for the participants of this week’s London Conference on Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, things are better today for Afghan women than they were before the US intervention. For example:

  • A woman giving birth in Afghanistan is less than half as likely to die today than she was in 2000.
  • The number of girls attending school has increased by over 30 percent since 2002, and numbers of child-brides has been declining in recent years.
  • Young women in Afghanistan, particularly those living in large urban areas have been exposed to a life very different from those lived by their mothers, and even older sisters. Women from this generation are making their claims to greater opportunities -education and employment, as well as protection from violence.

This progress has been hard won through the efforts of local groups and activists and the support of the international community. Last week in Olso, in the run up to the London Conference, Senator Bob Casey pledged the United States’ continuing support for women’s rights  in Afghanistan. As former co-chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs and a current member of the Senate’s National Security Working Group, Senator Casey- and Senator Barbara Boxer- have been champions of what was, at the start of the US intervention in 2001, a dire situation for many women in Afghanistan.

Not everyone agrees with this agenda however.

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What do handbags have to do with counter-insurgency?

Bilquis Rafiq’s family is unusual for the village and the part of Pakistan where they live:  each of her three children – two boys and a girl- are in school. The family can afford to pay the school fees for all their children because Bilquis has been earning a living from Popinjay[1], a for-profit social impact oriented enterprise that makes high-end handbags for sale in Pakistan and the USA.

In a country where the education system provides few affordable options for families living on little, many Pakistanis choose to send their children to foreign-funded madrassas – or religious schools- which offer to feed and house as well as educate their students, at little or no cost. The madrassas however are notorious for the highly conservative, often extreme religious doctrines they transmit to their students, and the link between the madrassa system and recruitment of insurgent fighters in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is well-known.  Without the madrassas, many households in rural areas don’t even have a realistic option for sending their children to school.



Continue reading What do handbags have to do with counter-insurgency?