Human Rights Impact Assessment Tips

The human rights impact assessment consists of two questions.

  1. Is it likely that the activities during the collaboration contribute directly to human rights violations, or, indirectly, facilitate human rights abuses?
  2. Is the partner involved in serious or systematic violations of human rights?

If so, the collaboration risks impacting negatively on human rights. The steps below will help you answer the above questions.

Answering the question step-by-step

1. You’re only expected to answer the questions based on the knowledge presently available to you. You are not expected to be aware of all incidents, and in most cases there is no reason for concern.

The following websites are a good starting point (use the search bar):

  • Business sectors and companies: www.business-humanrights.org
  • Academic institutions: www.scholarsatrisk.org
  • High-risk resources: www.responsiblesourcingtool.org

2. Check whether the activity is prone to human rights violations. Also consider whether the region where the activity takes place is known for human rights violations.

3. Check whether the partner or sector is criticised for violating human rights.

4. Does it look like the activity, partner, sector or region is tied to serious or systematic human rights violations? Please contact the Human Rights Policy Committee. Please provide the collaboration you have in mind and the  and describe the collaboration you have in mind and what evidence there is of possible human rights violations.

5. If necessary, the Human Rights Policy Committee will conduct a more thorough investigation and advise on the collaboration. For instance, 1) measures can be taken to reduce the risk, 2) a positive contribution could be made to solving the human rights violations, 3) misuse of the collaboration for political purposes could be prevented.

Examples of problematic activities

  • Activities for which child, forced or slave labour is used by the partner(s)
  • Activities involving discrimination. E.g. an exchange agreement, 'joint PhD', training, education or research activity that is not open to certain categories of people on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc., without legitimate reason (such as positive discrimination)
  • Activities with harmful side effects. For instance:
    • The damage or destruction of land and/or cultural property of indigenous peoples
    • The expulsion of people from their land for the construction of a field experiment
    • Research results used to identify vulnerable communities with harmful effects (e.g. tobacco producers identifying vulnerable communities or technology for profiling vulnerable minorities).

Examples of problematic partners

Examples of problematic academic, commercial or non-commercial partners due to serious or systematic human rights violations:

  • Organisations that systematically discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnicity, political opinion, nationality, religion, etc., by denying them access to university
  • Organisations that regularly dismiss employees for criticizing government policies
  • Organisations where security personnel use excessive force against students who demonstrate
  • Organisations that systematically refuse to grant employees a fair remuneration according to local standards, and employ employees in problematic circumstances (e.g. the mining sector, clothing industry and large-scale plantations)
  • Organisations that produce goods that are likely to be used for human rights violations (e.g. certain weapon producers).

The assessment is limited to whether a partner violates human rights. A partner is not responsible for human rights violations by the government in which it is not involved, or for the mere implementation of a problematic law. However, collaborations with organisations that actively contribute to serious human rights violations by a national government are excluded. Think of:

  • Operating detention centres in which refugees are held in inhuman conditions and/or for an indefinite period of time
  • The unlawful destruction of homes to oppress a part of the population
  • The drastic reduction of health care in already disadvantaged parts of a country
  • Setting up torture programmes for terrorist suspects
  • Organizing death squads in a war on drugs
  • Mandatory sterilisation of certain groups of people (e.g. persons with disabilities or Roma)
  • Testing experimental drugs on an impoverished part of the population.

In certain cases, collaborations are foreseen with government actors, such as the army, the police or the prison administration, who have been shown to have committed serious human rights violations. Think of repressing demonstrations with excessive violence, imprisoning minorities in 're-education camps', torturing terrorist suspects, expulsing and murdering minority groups, or the imprisonment of detainees in inhumane conditions. A critical reflection is required when working with state actors where they committed serious or systematic human right violations.

Examples of non-problematic collaborations

  • The collaboration involves a partner from a country where human rights are seriously violated. For example, political activists are systematically imprisoned, large parts of the population die of malnutrition, minorities are systematically discriminated against, or terrorist suspects are tortured. However, the partner is in no way involved in these human rights violations, nor do the activities of the proposed cooperation involve human rights violations.
  • Due to a temporary shortage of funds, which is not caused by systematic misuse of funds, a commercial partner occasionally fails to pay the salaries of his/her employees on time.
  • A university partner exceptionally refuses an academic access to the university buildings because of his/her controversial political opinion, without this opinion being punishable.