Human Rights Guidance Tool for the Financial Sector
Key Issues and Questions


Identifying the human rights issues and expectations relevant to business
(based on internationally recognised standards and voluntary initiatives)

Communities living close to project or factory sites can be affected by the operation and conduct of the business. Examples include:

  • an influx of workers
  • corporate use of essential local resources
  • recruitment of security staff to protect premises and site activities, which may lead to social tensions and conflicts
  • environmental damage and impacts on human health
  • the displacement of populations to allow for industrial development.

What are the main issues?

Natural resources and infrastructure

Use of natural resources

Many industries require access to natural resources such as clean water and land. Human rights issues/risks include:

  • The company may use or pollute a water supply previously relied on by the community, risking water shortage or illness; companies also need to be aware of their overall adverse impact on the environment (eg land contamination and air quality) which may affect local communities
  • Lack of access to clean water, or to land, may put local people at risk of loss of livelihood (including fishing, agriculture and local manufacturing processes)
  • The exploitation of natural resources can result in tensions between the company and the local community, putting community members and company workers at risk
  • Companies may need to acknowledge and respect the intellectual property rights of communities
  • Where local infrastructure (roads, electricity, sewerage and so on) is limited, a company may put additional pressure on the infrastructure which may be potentially damaging to local communities
  • Companies may contribute in a positive way to the development of local infrastructure.


State provision of security

  • In some instances, the host state may provide security staff to protect company property - the company should take account of any risk of excessive use of force against workers and local communities
  • If there are different ethnic, religious or indigenous groups within a country, there may be particular concerns about discrimination by security forces against particular groups
  • If the company is required to rely on state-provided security personnel, it should be aware and in compliance with local law, or higher available standards (international, sector and company-specific)
  • Where the company evaluated that state-provided security is not reliable to protect, and respect, human rights, the company should use responsible and professional private security contractors. The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights provide the reference framework of standards.

Non-state groups and security payments

Particularly in conflict areas or areas of weak governance, groups may extort payment for ensuring the security of the company's personnel and facilities. Companies should be aware that these payments may be used to finance actions which abuse human rights.


If there is a need to detain an individual following protection of company premises by security staff, this should be handled by the local law enforcement authorities and not by the security staff.

The safety of the person in detainment pending handling by local law enforcement should be duly monitored by the company.

Access to Land

In the development of new production sites or company premises, companies may purchase land directly from a host state. Issues may arise concerning indigenous/informal title to land, voluntary relocation or forced re-location.

Title to land

  • The system of land ownership varies between countries. In some cases, indigenous groups may have their land titles ignored or there may be informal land ownership arrangements. Companies should be aware of and respect the special status of indigenous populations under international law
  • The company should consider whether they need to undertake detailed research into land ownership
  • The company should be aware of any system of customary law (and any conflicts associated with this system) which forms part of national law and may give land rights to local communities
  • A project should provide benefit to local people and/or prompt and effective compensation if appropriate.

Voluntary relocation - consultation, free, prior and informed consent, and compensation

  • The company may investigate and consider alternatives to relocation (such as use of alternative sites for the development), particularly where replacement of land is inappropriate or not available
  • The company should consult with members of the community, taking particular care to ensure that vulnerable groups are part of the consultation process, and take steps to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of local indigenous communities. There should be an ongoing grievance mechanism available to local communities
  • Compensation provided to the community should be based on 'replacement value' and be sufficient to allow an adequate standard of living. Compensation should be just, fair, and equitable. This should be issued prior to relocation, or before effects are experienced
  • If relocation is unavoidable, communities should be transferred to alternative land with housing which matches or exceeds the previous standard and which allows for the continuation of their livelihood (e.g. farming or fishing). Relocated people should have security of tenure.

Forced relocation

  • Forced relocations (including the use of security forces to remove people) should not take place in connection with the development of company activities
  • A company should take steps to ensure that any relocation plan connected to company activities has been preceded by consultations with affected individuals and communities, and obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.

Community investment

  • Companies may make positive contributions to human rights in the communities in which they operate through community investment programmes
  • Companies may provide basic services and utilities for communities and need to consider how to do this in a way which is equitable, respects the role of government and supports and empowers local businesses (for example by using local suppliers) and communities.
  • Companies need to be aware of the longer term implications of providing community resources - what happens if the project ends?

Tackling issues with communities

  • Stakeholder engagement — consulting with local communities and community leaders to find out what impacts there are on their lives and what they need; obtaining free, prior and informed consent for land and resource use when dealing with indigenous peoples;
  • Remediation — making sure that any problems that arise are addressed;
  • Communication — keep stakeholders informed on the identified and addressed issues on an ongoing basis;
  • Benefit-sharing — explore opportunities to contribute to local socio-economic development (employment creation. skills and capacity-building, local business support)


December 2014     United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative