Using a right to food framework to influence investment decisions and operations of financial institutions

FoodFirst Information and Action Network International (FIAN) uses a human rights based approach to engage investors in recognizing the negative impacts and human rights violations caused by companies with loans or equity investment by the investors. The tactic was used in a campaign on violations of the right to food by large surface gold mines (1999-2003).

The goal of the tactic is either to prevent investments in new mines or to mitigate the impacts of existing mines. The tactic relies on the assumption that investors are very sensitive to image threats – often more sensitive because they have more relations to consumers than a mining company.

In the 1980s there was a new gold rush in many countries (especially in the South) because of the deregulation of mining codes, privatization of mining companies and new cheap technologies (cyanide leaching for large surface mines). The mines severely affected the livelihoods of communities near the mine and caused human rights violations and environmental destruction.

The tactic is used in close cooperation with affected communities and local organisations on the ground. Contacts with the communities arise out of multiple sources, sometimes by chance, sometimes through investigation or through visits to a region. Together with these partners FIAN investigates the human rights problems of specific mines. The tactic uses a number of instruments to bring the findings to the investor and the public: from fact finding mission reports, urgent actions, involving human right bodies at the national and international level, to media work, speaker tours, conferences and lobby work. With the human rights framework and the pressure created, the tactic provides new leverage against investors and mining companies.

FIAN begins by linking up with affected people and investigating human rights violations. When this information has been compiled, the organization brings the human rights violations to the attention of the investors and the public. After disseminating information about the abuses, FIAN pressures investors to alter their position on the company. This decisive period might be a longer phase. Depending on the investor, a number of different instruments may need to be used to make some progress. This might include meetings with the investors, media work, legislative steps, reports to human right bodies, or other approaches.

Finally, FIAN influences how the investors want to solve the problem. Once the investors decide to act, it is important to influence the process to find solutions. For example, when an investor decided to investigate the human right problems of a gold mine in Ghana, FIAN and its partners made sure that they would really visit the communities and take time to talk to affected communities. Otherwise the mining companies would have shown them their showcases and brought them to people supportive to the mine (or even bribed people to show their support). FIAN and its partners then tabled a list of issues that needed to be addressed and negotiated an action plan to solve the problems.

Through this approach, FIAN has contributed to reducing negative impacts of mining in a number of specific cases, and has been monitoring implementation. The tactic has provided a new avenue to support the affected communities. The investor approach makes it harder for companies to go ahead with new mines that don't respect affected communities and environmental issues. It can help to prevent such mines or at least lead to stricter conditions for them. It also helps in situations where affected people suffer from negative impacts of existing mines, but companies and governmental authorities seem unwilling to solve the problems. While the tactic has produced positive results on the level of specific cases, it has not resulted in the incorporation of human rights into the general policy of investors.

When using this tactic, it is important to analyze the role of investors/lenders in the particular case or sector. Investors must have influence on the problems, so the tactic works better in sectors that are capital-intense. Then companies need to find larger and more loans, and they are more dependent on the investors and on their own reputation amongst investors.


For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.