The Ukraine flag, flapping in the breeze against a blue, lightly cloudy sky

The Business Response to the War in Ukraine

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led to a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has reported on the shocking toll of the war, including thousands of civilians killed and injured, massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, large-scale displacement, widespread conflict-related sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, in addition to other grave violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law.   

The business response to the war in Ukraine should be guided by the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights, the authoritative global framework on business and human rights that lays out the human rights responsibilities of companies and investors. Guiding Principle 7 recognizes that business activities in conflict-affected and high-risk areas (CAHRA) increase the risks of fueling conflict and negatively impacting human rights.  

In response to this risk, investors should, among other things, conduct heightened human rights due diligence (HRDD) of their portfolio holdings in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to identify and address negative human rights impacts on rightsholders linked with those holdings. Investors should also communicate to their portfolio companies their expectation that they undertake heightened HRDD of all business activities to ensure that they are not exacerbating or supporting the conflict and associated human rights harms. Investors should hold their portfolio companies accountable to this end, and consider responsible divestment, if necessary.  

The U.S. government has issued a business advisory, "Risks and Considerations for Doing Business in the Russian Federation and Russia-Occupied Territories of Ukraine," warning that business activities in those areas pose serious legal, financial, and reputational risks for companies and investors. 

Together with members of the investor community, other nonprofits, civil society, and public international organizations, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights is closely monitoring the international armed conflict and human rights situation in Ukraine, with particular focus on preventing and mitigating negative human rights impacts that the business and investment community may cause or contribute to as a result of its activities, relationships, or holdings. 

Summary of Related Actions:

  • On March 3rd, 2022 we issued an Investor Alert condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reiterating investors’ responsibilities under the UNGPs, and urging businesses and investors to use their individual and collective leverage to promote respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. 

  • A number of Investor Alliance members supported a public statement coordinated by the Heartland Initiative of 56 investors with over 1.7 trillion USD in combined assets under management. The statement, released on May 19th, 2022 calls on companies across all sectors with business operations or relationships in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus to adopt and implement a set of eight steps to effectively align their operations with the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines. 

  • We are also supporting the Business for Ukraine (B4Ukraine) coalition of Ukrainian and international civil society groups that calls for greater corporate accountability and aims to block access to the economic and financial resources enabling Russia’s war of aggression. 

  • On September 19, 2023, B4Ukraine launched a new report, The Business of Leaving: How multinationals can responsibly exit Russia. The Investor Alliance was a co-author, along with the Business and Human Rights Resource Center and the Kyiv School of Economics. The report critically examines the top reasons companies give for remaining in the Russian market and provides recommendations on responsible exit. An article with an abbreviated summary of the report's findings is available here as well as a recording of the launch webinar, Should I Stay or Should I Go: Danish and Scandinavian Businesses Still in Russia: Promoting a Responsible Exit, hosted by the Copenhagen Business School.  

  • Jointly with the Heartland Initiative, we analyzed the investor response to the war in Ukraine in an article in the Business and Human Rights Journal. The thought piece offers a blueprint for actions that investors must, should and can undertake in response to the war and calls for a more robust and systematic investor response given the gravity and scale of violations of international law perpetrated by Russia.

  • Resources and tools for investors and companies operating in CAHRA, including guidance clarifying how and when to carry out heightened HRDD, is available here. Additional resources specific to the Ukraine conflict are available here.    

For more information on our work related to the investor response to the conflict in Ukraine, or on investment activities in conflict-affected and high-risk areas more generally, please contact Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt.