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So human rights do not matter?

Posted by Helen Friday, July 25, 2008 ,

How often have we heard this from pompous businessmen, commentators, politicians and officials: well, of course, human rights matter but really there are far more important things in the world such as business relations, trade, the Olympics and other suchlike matters that make the world go round.

I have news for these people. Human rights, as I have said before, make a difference in matters economic. For one thing, a respect for human rights means (usually) a respect for the law and that, ladies and gentlemen of the business and political world, means respect for contracts.

The sad story of the TNK-BP conglomerate and the enforced departure of its CEO from Russia has been covered in the business sections of most newspapers. Today's Times and Daily Telegraph do a reasonable job.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Deputy Chairman of TNK-BP made stirring statements:

There is a legitimate way of bringing about change in a company - through negotiation and discussion. AAR's efforts to wrest control of the company through illegitimate means are damaging the company and, regrettably, Russia's reputation among international investors.

Anyone who cares about the security of international investment, and corporate governance should be concerned. This is not about British versus Russian interests as AAR has tried to portray it. It is about the actions of AAR and its affiliated executives and the resulting damage to the company and to Russia.
The trouble is that the sentence that springs to mind is "we told you so". The writing appeared on the wall when the Yukos affair played itself out, though British business looked the other way, muttering about trade links being more important than huffing and puffing about illegal destruction of a successful business and imprisonment of various people connected with it.

The writing intensified last year with the shenanigans over Shell and BP while the Russian state gathered more and more of the energy resources in its collective grubby hand, bullied partners and ... well, and what? It certainly did not invest those profits in further development or infrastructure.

It's the human rights, stupid.