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Multinationals can be a force for good, research finds

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Multinational companies are challenging preconceptions by fighting for human rights and protecting whistleblowers, a report has revealed.

The survey for the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) revealed some global firms are taking action to defend activists or safeguard workers’ rights – even if it puts profits at risk.

Researchers said their findings provide a sharp contrast to public perceptions of multinationals. A poll carried out as part of the project found just 14% of people think global corporations were concerned about human rights, while more than half think companies only consider them when their profits or reputation are at stake.

People don’t expect international businesses to care about freedoms or workers’ rights, but that does not always reflect reality

Hoewver, the report listed a number of examples where multinational companies have used their influence to defend human rights.

These include international diamond companies signing a letter in support of journalist Rafael Marques after he was detained in Angola for exposing abuse and corruption in the gemstone industry.

In Pakistan, leading IT firms publically declined to bid for a tender by the government to provide technical support for the country’s security forces to censor the internet.

Food firms in Thailand, meanwhile, provided funds to bail Andy Hall, a journalist who was arrested while investigating abuses of migrant workers in the country.

And in Cambodia, major fashion retailers intervened on behalf of garment workers to stop violent repression of protests demanding a higher minimum wage

The report found companies were especially likely to throw their weight behind campaigns that demonstrated the ethics and values they believe are important to their business.

It goes on to recommend that non-government organisations foster relationships with multinationals that share their values, and urges businesses to use their authority to exert pressure on governments to support civil society.

Adam Pickering, CAF international policy manager, said: “This report shows that many of the best companies set an example by putting their values first and do the right thing, even when their business interests are at stake.

“People don’t expect international businesses to care about freedoms or workers’ rights, but that does not always reflect reality on the ground.”

“Of course companies rightly come under scrutiny for their practices overseas, but this research shows they can be a huge force for good when they recognise that a vibrant and strong society actually contributes towards business sustainability in the countries where they operate.”

The report, Beyond Integrity, was conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science for the CAF.