Rapid Human Rights Due Diligence During Political and Armed Conflict: A Business Response to Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine presents the most high-stakes situation for the country since it broke from the Soviet Union in 1991.




Russia is acting in violation of international law, international humanitarian law, and a host of international agreements, and it is committing serious abuses of fundamental human rights. As previously acknowledged, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also raises significant questions for business and illuminates the impact that its actions can have during times of political and armed conflict.

As countries and international organizations are taking rapid actions, both independently and in concert (most significantly by denouncing Russian aggression and imposing hefty economic sanctions), companies operating globally have also acted swiftly. At present, around 500 companies have halted operations in Russia and taken other actions to respond to the invasion. 

While it is becoming more common to see corporate actors exiting Russia or taking other actions in response to the invasion, civil society has started to question how companies are implementing international human rights standards for business while taking such actions. Notable examples include an analysis by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre assessing business and human rights in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an article by Human Rights Watch on how tech companies should prioritize rights in Ukraine.

In our work with member companies on the subject of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, BSR has provided several specific recommendations, and in particular the need to conduct heightened human rights due diligence. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) expect companies to identify and assess actual or potential adverse human rights impacts and to take appropriate action to address them. Under normal circumstances, companies have weeks, months, or even years to complete due diligence. However, this is not the case during political and armed conflict. 

BSR previously developed a rapid human rights due diligence tool to help with quick decision-making in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, using the UNGPs and the various human rights principles, standards, and methodologies upon which the UNGPs were built. The tool has been updated to account for the outbreak of political and armed conflict in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The latest version reflects BSR’s guidance on how to conduct heightened human rights due diligence in conflict-affected and high-risk contexts, insights surrounding the business response, and recommendations to member companies.  

The repercussions of the invasion on business are massive, including immediate to long-term implications on climate and energy transition, global supply chains, economies and geopolitics, and healthcare, as well as on the global financial system, democracy, and corporate citizenship. Russia's invasion of Ukraine also heightens human rights risks for business with operations, supply chains, customers, and users in the region, with concerns including:

  • Whether it would be responsible to continue operating in the environment, and how to responsibly exit the region if presence is no longer tenable. 
  • In what circumstances a corporate leader should address a political situation, and how such activism (or a lack thereof) might impact employee mental well-being, safety, or security. 
  • How to have positive impacts on the human rights of Ukrainian staff members and the broader community and how to support Russian employees to exercise their freedom of expression by engaging in protest.
  • How to go above legal compliance to address human rights concerns.

The BSR rapid human rights due diligence tool guides companies through human rights due diligence in urgent scenarios. The tool also makes specific reference to various standards from international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

While recognizing the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, BSR also acknowledges claims by human rights advocates of the hypocrisy of media coverage of Russia’s war on Ukraine as compared with other conflicts. BSR intends for this tool to also be used in other instances of political and armed conflict, without discrimination.

This article was first published here: BSR | Our Insights | Blog | Rapid Human Rights Due Diligence During Political and Armed Conflict: A Business Response to Ukraine



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