Since 2008, there has been an unprecedented 70% rise in human rights violations globally, according to the seventh annual Human Rights Risk Atlas (HRRA) produced by global analytics company, Maplecroft, which reveals the number of countries classified as ‘extreme risk’ between 2008 and 2014 has increased from 20 to 34.
Syria (ranked 1st globally in 2014), Egypt (16th), Libya (19th), Mali (22nd) and Guinea-Bissau (74th) show the worst deterioration. Regionally, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Africa account for the majority of this increase
In MENA, state repression of societal protests, particularly youth protests, reveals an increase in the number of ‘extreme risk’ countries from two to seven, and an overall change in the regional average from 4.29/10 in 2008 to 2.75/10 in 2014 (where 0 represents the worst score). In addition to Syria (1st), Egypt (16th) and Libya (19th), other ‘extreme risk’ countries in the region include Iraq (7th), Yemen (9th), Iran (11th) and Saudi Arabia (31st).
In sub-Saharan Africa, ongoing ethnic and sectarian conflict has resulted in a worsening risk score – from 4.56/10 in 2008 to 3.34/10 in 2014. Sudan (2nd), DR Congo (3rd) and Somalia (5th) remain amongst the five most extreme risk countries in the world, with DR Congo still having amongst the worst records of all countries for violations of women’s and girl’s rights, particularly sexual violence.
In Asia, the increase in risk is also evident, with a risk score of 3.49/10 in 2014, compared to 4.04 in 2008. The highest risk countries include Pakistan (4th), Afghanistan (6th) and Myanmar (8th). In Bangladesh (17th) and India (18th) poor legal and regulatory frameworks contribute to a lack of access to remedy and pervasive labour rights violations, which account in turn for their poor risk rating.
Human Rights Risk Index 2014
Increases in human security risks and labour violations especially prevalent in key growth markets
Maplecroft’s Human Rights Risk Atlas analyses the frequency, severity and complicity risk in 31 categories of human rights across 197 countries. This allows Maplecroft to monitor detailed human rights violations in key growth economies since 2008. Countries such as Iraq (7th), Nigeria (10th), China (15th), Bangladesh (17th), India (18th), Colombia (26th) Philippines (27th), Ethiopia (28th), Indonesia (30th) and Saudi Arabia (31st) have experienced increased human rights risks since 2008.
“Since 2008, global economic growth and investment has shifted to new markets prompting a demand for low-cost workers, water and land as well as other natural resources, states Lizabeth Campbell, Maplecroft’s Head of Societal Risk and Human Rights. “In many of these markets, human rights violations continue to get worse. Worker’s rights are seriously compromised, rural and indigenous communities face grave violations related to land grabs and forced displacement, particularly where their land ownership is not formally documented. Increasingly, repressive or corrupt governments clamp down on human rights, particularly freedom of expression, to maintain their grip on power and economic control. Companies cannot rely on robust governance and remedy structures in these markets … which means the onus is on them directly to implement appropriate levels of due diligence and mitigating action.”
Security forces crackdowns in oppressive regimes restrict freedom of expression and societal dissent
The role of security forces in violent crackdowns within growth economies has been a key driver in the rise of human security risks. This trend is particularly evident in growth economies, such as Colombia (26th), Peru (59th), Brazil (70th) and Turkey (78th), where violent repression is characterised by the suppression of protests, which sometimes include arbitrary arrest and detentions and extrajudicial killings.
Restricting free speech and information enables repressive governments to act within a climate of impunity, where media scrutiny and public dissent can be quashed and where justice or ‘access to remedy’ for victims of violations is inaccessible. In many of the countries where crackdowns by security forces are more frequent, their score in Maplecroft’s Freedom of Opinion and Expression Index has also deteriorated.
Despite an ongoing agenda of reform in China (15th), the state’s near total control of communications technologies, media and social networks is a central strategy of the regime to suppress dissident activities. This was evidenced by the arrest of ‘micro-bloggers’ during the instalment of the new leadership in November 2012. Beyond the risk of complicity, repression of information can also create significant operational challenges for ICT and media companies in China. In Viet Nam (46th), the government now prohibits bloggers and users of social networking sites from discussing current affairs. Legislation requires internet companies with blog platforms to report to the government every six months and relinquish personal data on its users if requested by authorities. Consequently, Viet Nam has descended from 42nd position in Maplecroft’s Freedom of Opinion and Expression Index 2012 to 23rd in 2014, while China has descended from 10th to 6th in the Index over the same period.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and press are not confined to ‘extreme risk’ emerging economies. In 2013, increasing authoritarianism, including journalist arrests, constraints on the judiciary, and a weakening of rule of law, were key ingredients in repressive reactions to mass social protests by security forces in Turkey (78th). This trend was also visible in developed economies, such as Greece (107th) and Italy (133rd) where governments responded to societal protests about the high cost of living by controlling and suppressing the media.
Workers’ protections continue to deteriorate in low-cost sourcing countries, particularly in Asia
Maplecroft’s HRRA 2014 also shows worsening working conditions in low-cost sourcing countries, such as Pakistan (4th) Bangladesh (17th), India (18th), the Philippines (27th), Indonesia (30th) and Viet Nam (46th). Poor working conditions, including widespread lack of enforced health and safety standards, endanger the lives of millions of workers. A lack of awareness amongst unskilled workers, as well as weak governance and high levels of corruption, undermine the protection of human rights. This was well evidenced in Bangladesh in April 2013, where the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 garment workers. Similar incidents have occurred in countries such as Pakistan (4th) and Cambodia (50th), both of which reveal a major deterioration in working conditions and complicity risks for business.
Discriminatory and abusive working conditions for many migrant workers have severely impacted the score for Qatar (98th overall). This future site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, fell from 63rd in 2012 to 32nd 2014 in the Working Conditions Index – one of Maplecroft’s 31 human rights risk indices. Notable exceptions to these trends include China (15th overall) and Thailand (48th overall), both of which have improved their rankings in this index from most at risk in 2008 to 37th in 2014 and from 40th to 77th respectively, due to government efforts to improve protections for workers’ rights. Maplecroft forecasts the reform process in China will result in continued improvements of labour protections and labour stability, unlike competitor sourcing destinations such as Vietnam and Bangladesh.
The risk of human trafficking has increased globally from 4.30/10 in 2008 to 3.43/10 in 2014 and afflicts both developed and developing countries. Ten of the EU28 countries rate high risk in Maplecroft’s Trafficking in Persons Index 2014. This includes including Greece (107th), Italy (133rd) and Hungary (135th). Romania (117th) is classified as extreme risk with both the US (139th) and UK (165th) classified as ‘medium risk’.
Displacement from land grabs in resource-rich countries
The risks of complicity in human rights violations by the state are also high for those companies undertaking investments in resource-rich countries. The HRRA 2014 reveals that rising human rights violations are frequently fuelled by increased competition for land and water between local populations and industrial business users, particularly where governments are challenged to balance future growth opportunities with universal social and economic rights – such as the right to education, housing and an adequate standard of living.
The economies of Myanmar (8th), Nigeria (10th), Ethiopia (28th), and Indonesia (30th), present a particularly high risk to business. In such economies, a high rate of deforestation, coupled with the unchecked conduct of security forces and a climate of impunity for human rights violations has led to a high risk of ‘land grabs’ at the expense of indigenous peoples rights, property rights and minority rights. For example, in Ethiopia, the government’s ‘villagisation’ policy, which aims to relocate 1.5 million people to enhance development prospects, has resulted in the violent eviction of indigenous peoples by security forces, from land now sold to businesses.