BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Companies need to put respect for human rights at the core of their businesses, with “doing good” likely to become a longer-lasting trend if they see it as a way to boost profits, international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney said on Tuesday.
Clooney, a British-Lebanese barrister, said companies were having to respond “in real-time” to events involving human rights abuses and were increasingly being held accountable for this.
She cited the example of foreign companies pulling out of an investment conference in Saudi Arabia after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate last October.
Corporations are held accountable today by their employees, shareholders, clients and the public, she noted.
“All businesses are in a position where if they don’t act, they will be judged by those communities,” Clooney told a conference hosted by global procurement platform SAP Ariba.
“Business professionals and people in the West with democracies often think human rights are about someone else, someone who lives far away and isn’t really like them at all - and that’s actually not true.”
Clooney highlighted attacks on the rights of women in many countries, including sexual violence “of epidemic proportions”, from Asia to Africa and the Middle East, as well as persecution of LGBT+ people, and repression of journalists around the world.
Clooney is currently working on cases to prosecute Islamic State militants for crimes against humanity, including sexual abuse and enslavement of women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority.
The lawyer, who married Hollywood actor George Clooney in 2014, acknowledged that doing the right thing may not always be profitable in the short-term.
She recalled a meeting with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan where he asked major pharmaceutical firms to cut the price of medicines to make them affordable for the poor.
But recruiting and promoting a more diverse workforce, including women, will likely boost the bottom line, because it is a question of attracting the best talent, she said.
“Ultimately if businesses believe that doing good can be profitable, then doing good will be sustainable,” she said.
Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate