The Link between Corruption and Human Rights

By Sanjala Hari

Human rights, particularly in the recent times, has been a key topic within the ESG space. With this, there is also growing traction of the role that corruption plays in impeding human rights. Corruption hinders effective discharge of human rights obligations diverting resources needed for safe and humane working conditions and preventing the right to fair trial. According to a study, countries with high rates of corruption are the ones with a poor human rights record (Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, 2017).

If we look at the conventional sustainability venn-diagram, it consists of Environmental, Social and Governance components. The three components overlap and influence the way businesses perform. Such is the overlap between corruption – a governance topic, and human rights – a social topic. Corruption is prevalent in businesses where there is unjust balance of powers, or where there is lack of transparency of information flow and decisions. Corruption through bribery or extortion often leads to oppressing the rights of the lesser-privileged workforce.

Due to complex global supply chains, businesses often operate in regions of the world where corruption is prevalent. Transparency has been one of the biggest challenges in global supply chains in eradicating corruption and in-turn human rights abuses. Transparency issues occur due to poor information sharing. In most cases, governance management of businesses work in silo of the social and environmental management. To facilitate good governance and prevent social abuses among supply chain players, buying companies must aim for procurement reforms that include strict provisions on all three – environmental, social and governance topics, in their contract decisions and supplier assessments. This would mean including all departments involved with environmental, social and governance management within a business and procurement practice to bring out effective reforms.

Human rights violations caused by corruption activities does not affect all workforce equally. Marginalised and discriminated groups are often the ones most affected. These include the poorer sections of the society, indigenous people, and women. Community consultation is key to prevent human rights violations. Contracts behind closed doors that do not take community consultations into considerations are often considered human rights violations. Businesses need to strengthen their due diligence work and whistle-blowing mechanisms to not only prevent corruption, such as bribery and extortion, but also prevent the human rights abuses that follow.