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A viable relationship with Amnesty

December 19, 2003, 09:00 CET

Hydro chief Eivind Reiten and other company heads met with Amnesty International leaders in Oslo Tuesday to discuss the human rights dialogue started between the two in a unique cooperation agreement first signed in March 2002 and renewed a year later.

Reiten referred to the Hydro Way branding process and explained how Hydro’s work in creating a more viable society embraces human rights.

“Our relationship with you contributes to this viability… it is about respect, foresight and cooperation. You can’t say you’re a company that cares about human rights without respecting human rights.

“I’m really convinced that the Hydro Way process we’re carrying out is in line with what you’re trying to achieve.”

Greater responsibility

Amnesty International Norway's general secretary, Petter Eide, pointed out that several countries where Hydro operates have documented cases of human rights abuses.

“We believe companies with power and influence must use it to protect human rights,” he asserted. “Governments will still be the key to protecting human rights, but in an increasingly global economy, the responsibility lies more and more with multinational corporations like Hydro.”

He praised Hydro’s willingness to play a role. “The discussion is not about whether to do it, but how to do it. I feel very secure that you’re concerned about these values.”

Part of the solution

Reiten confessed three recent high-level investment decisions involved countries with dubious human rights records.

“I often ask myself are we part of the solution or part of the problem” and “if we’re really part of the problem, then we should review staying in a country at all… but when I’m in Iran, for example, and talk about transparency, I see how we open eyes in the way we work together.”

Asked to elaborate, Reiten remarked, “a short walk through our office in Teheran reveals how we treat and respect people to create a good working environment… when we sit down and ask them about Norway, they often comment on the freedom and openness.

“I’m absolutely convinced that we contribute to making a difference - and the better we get to know them, the more this understanding grows.”

He emphasized that Hydro employees and business are his ultimate priority and expressed the importance of communicating human rights concerns during business negotiations in questionable countries in the most diplomatic and effective way possible.

Multinational participation

Chris Marsden, a former BP executive and current chair of Amnesty International’s UK Business Group, said the role multinational corporations play in the struggle to improve human rights has matured during the past decade from making donations to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to interpreting human rights as a basic tenet to viable business.

Still, multinationals must play a greater role, he implored.

“We’re not going to see the kind of progress we want to see, unless leading business picks up the challenge to lead.”

He detailed BP’s cooperation with Amnesty - implementing human rights stipulations into documents for the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project – as a classic example where Amnesty made a difference protecting both human rights and legal exposure to the company.

Marsden said Hydro’s “level of engagement” in human rights issues is higher than counterparts in the UK, but he asked “how deep does it go into the organization?

“One of the great things about a company like yours is you not only have access to leaders like Russia’s President Putin, but all the way down to where you can challenge situations and really make a difference.”

Digging deeper

“We appreciate the opportunity to review our partnership with Amnesty… not only to reflect, but to dig a little deeper into the challenges we face,” Reiten told Eide, Marsden, and Amnesty International Norway reps Beate Slydal and Gerald Folkvord.

The agreement includes Amnesty’s support integrating human rights into existing Hydro management programs as well as a recently launched e-learning program about human rights incorporated in Hydro’s e-learning strategy and systems on the intranet. The partnership is a pilot for both Hydro and Amnesty. Statoil has a similar agreement. Worldwide this partnership is followed with great interest.

See also:

Amnesty International