Support for the assessment of human rights risks in international collaborations

Human rights are an important starting point in public administration. KI's employees need to be able to assess how human rights are relevant in our operations, not least in international collaborations. Here you as researcher will find information and support for identifying situations in international cooperation in which human rights issues should be considered.

Questions to consider

A good start is to conduct simple internet searches using the names of the parties that will be part of the collaboration. Use search terms such as "X-Company + violation of human rights" "University of Y + controversies", "The Z Research Institute + military", "W-Government Agency + police". Such searches often give a first indication of whether the partner or the partner's organisation has a documented history of controversial contexts.

Consider whether and how human rights can be relevant to the area of cooperation in question. Also, find out whether the region where the cooperation is supposed to take place is already known for human rights violations.

If it appears that the business, partner, sector or region is linked to serious or systematic human rights violations, you should discuss these issues with your closest supervisor. 

Examples of problematic activities

  • Activities involving discrimination. e.g. an exchange collaboration, 'joint doctorate', educational programme or research activities that are not open to certain categories of people because e.g. of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, without legitimate reasons (e.g. positive action).
  • Activities with harmful side-effects. For instance:
    • Damage or destruction of indigenous peoples' land and/or cultural property
    • Research results used to identify vulnerable populations (e.g. genetic or biometric databases identifying vulnerable communities or technologies for profiling vulnerable minorities).

Examples of problematic partners

Examples of problematic academic, commercial or non-commercial partners due to serious or systematic human rights violations:

  • Organizations that systematically discriminate (e.g. on the basis of gender, ethnicity, political opinion, nationality, religion), by denying them access to education or employment.
  • Higher education institutions that fire employees for criticizing government policies.
  • Higher education institutions where security personnel use excessive force against students who publicly hold demonstrations.
  • Organisations that systematically do not provide employees with fair remuneration according to local standards and who employ employees in problematic circumstances (e.g. within the mining sector, the garment industry, and large-scale plantations).
  • Organisations producing goods or services that are likely to be used for human rights violations (e.g. certain arms manufacturers, military or police).

The researcher's responsibility

We must presume that a partner, as far as possible in its specific context, stands up for human rights principles and academic values. This should also apply to partners in authoritarian regimes.

If KI centrally pauses or terminates institutional collaborations within a country or with a higher education institution, this does not automatically mean that individual researchers must pause or terminate their collaboration with individual researchers in the same country or with that higher education institution. The individual researchers at partner institution are themselves responsible to support human rights as far as possible, even if authorities and even university management act in a way that does not align with KI's values. These are difficult assessments that may require expertise on a case-to-case basis. The immediate superior can decide to escalate these issues in the organisation according to the regulations for risk assessment at KI (in Swedish) and finally to the university management or the international relations office, which when deemed appropriate can bring the issue on to SUHF's advisory group for global relations.

Institutional collaborations, for example based on agreements or declarations of intent (MoU) between KI and a foreign institution, are handled by the department or university management.