What Companies Should Know and Do about Enablers

A company risks enabling mass atrocities when it provides resources, goods, services, or other forms of practical support that help sustain crimes against humanity or genocide.

These crimes may take place far from the company’s headquarters, and the company may not have direct contact with the perpetrators of the atrocities themselves. But where support from the private sector helps to sustain such a campaign of violence against civilians, companies should exercise extreme caution to avoid acting as enablers.

There are particular circumstances in which the risk of such crimes is highest. Mass atrocities typically occur during ongoing violent conflict or in areas where human rights abuses are widespread and severe. In situations like Darfur, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mass atrocities have attracted sustained media attention and have led to the imposition of U.S. and international sanctions. In these and other cases, companies both large and small operate at various points along the supply chains on which the perpetrators of atrocities rely for access to critical resources, goods, and services.

The potential legal liabilities of companies for “complicity” or other charges for their role in the commission of crimes against humanity or genocide are significant. But short of legal complicity, companies also bear serious reputational and other risks for enabling mass atrocities. And whether or not they are sensitive to potential reputational damage, they are increasingly likely to face regulation from policy makers determined to halt the world’s worst crimes. Companies that operate in, or engage in activities connected to, places where mass atrocities against civilians are taking place should, therefore, carefully assess and take steps to mitigate the risks that they may help to sustain the atrocities by providing resources to the perpetrators of these crimes.


Published on December 31, 2011


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