Oxford Brookes Business School

Roundtable on The role of businesses in safeguarding the rights of refugees: Current knowledge, and future research for solutions

Thursday, 25 April 2019


The question of the role and responsibility of businesses to integrate, support and protect refugees in their host countries in times of and post crisis is emerging as a significant issue at the intersection between the fields of Business and Human Rights (BHR), and Business and Development. In recent years, in the context of the ‘European refugee crisis’, humanitarian responses to forced migration have shifted towards development approaches.

This shift in the governance and management of refugee movements and forced migration has occurred alongside the making of other global governance frameworks, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2016) and the New York Declaration to Protect Migrants and Refugees (2018). What these frameworks and approaches have in common is that they all encourage and increasingly rely on businesses to become agents in sustainable development and in enabling the resilience and integration of refugee populations in host countries in partnerships with governments and civil society. In response to the forced migration of Syrians in the Middle East and in Europe, businesses have joined in initiatives and programmes with international organizations (UNHRC), NGOs, and states to support these processes, as well as developed products and services for refugees including shelters, banking app, etc. Many large businesses have also spoken out against anti-immigration policies and discourses in numerous countries and stressed the importance of diversity and non-discrimination in their own organizations. Those with supply chains in the Middle-East have also had to address risks of child labour and worker exploitation as many Syrian refugees joined the informal labour market to survive.  

Current knowledge about these public-private partnerships and business-based ‘solutions’ and how these have been implemented in different countries, including those that have received large numbers of refugees and those who are hosting very few, is limited. There is also yet little understanding about the organizational drivers, practices and implications of what could be conceptualized as a turn towards ‘positive corporate human rights responsibility’ that is when business become involved in the protection and realisation of human rights beyond the established global standard of corporate responsibility to respect human rights. During her research visit at Copenhagen Business School between April and June 2019, Dr. Samentha Goethals will be developing a comparative project to investigate the role and responsibility of European companies in addressing refugee issues and safeguarding their rights in their domestic operations and in their Middle Eastern supply chains during and post crisis. 

On 25th April, Dr Goethals presented the concept of her new project on the role and responsibilities of businesses as agents and partners in response to migration crises in a roundtable sponsored by CBS Diversity and Difference Platform and Inequality Platform and the BHRights Initiative. Fifteen participants including colleagues from CBS and Danish NGOs participated in the roundtable. The small audience engaged in a rich discussion bringing diverse perspectives and ideas helping identified knowledge needs that can be addressed through future research. Among others, these include the need to map the very different issues confronting refugees and business in the different contexts of the Middle East and European countries; questions about the organizational and external drivers of business responses; and at a more conceptual and normative level how safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups, such as refugees, enhances the positive responsibility of business for human rights.

Copyrights: Refugees welcome to Denmark demonstration 2015 Creative Commons Zero - CC0