COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Amnesty ready to train firms in human rights

KIRSTEN DOWNER

Amnesty International UK may start charging businesses in this country to help it spread its human rights message.

Amnesty International Norway signed an £85,000 deal with multinational oil company Norsk Hydro at the end of last month. Under the deal, 15,000 company employees get basic human rights training, with country-specific training for key company leaders. Amnesty will also provide dilemma training to help managers explore business scenarios where there are potential abuses of human rights.

Amnesty is now monitoring the Norwegian example to see if it will work in the UK.

"The Norsk Hydro project is an interesting and important step forward,

said Rory Sullivan, Amnesty International UK Business group adviser.

Amnesty is increasingly targeting business to raise awareness of human rights issues. It has met with businesses including BP, Shell and Premier Oil.

Earlier this year, the organisation published The Geography of Risk, a survey of human rights and business, which highlighted violations, including torture, forced child labour and arbitrary detention, occurring in countries where multinationals operated.

Norsk Hydro, which has operations in 70 countries, including Indonesia, Angola and Columbia, was featured in the survey, as were several British businesses including BP, Shell and Tate %26 Lyle.

"Business is often more influential than government,

said an Amnesty International UK spokesman. "Soft persuasion and education is part of a multi-pronged approach. Our informal dialogues are about extracting principles and getting them to talk our language,

he said.

Some of Amnesty's meetings with business have led to companies instituting environmental and human rights audits, said the spokesman.

Amnesty, which refuses to take money from governments because of concerns about its independence, denied that the tie-in would in effect provide a damage-limitation service for the company or compromise its independence.

"Amnesty will remain free to criticise any company it has tried to educate including Norsk Hydro and will use the money to expose human rights violations around the world, not least if they are committed by companies involved in education programmes such as this,

said the spokesman.

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