Accelerating the business and human rights agenda in the war setting

UNDP Ukraine presented the first findings of the Context Assessment Study at the UN Regional Forum

November 17, 2022
Photo credit: Vasyl Shepella / UNDP Ukraine

On 10 November, the 3rd UN Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights in Eastern Europe and Central Asia engaged the representatives of national governments, multilaterals, civil society, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), trade unions, academia, and businesses.

The war in Ukraine is putting the economic sustainability of Ukraine at risk, having an immediate and devastating impact on all men and women, and hitting the poorest households the hardest. As of March 2022, the war has forced half of all Ukrainian businesses to completely shut down. Most of the remaining 50 percent have been forced to operate well below capacity. If the war deepens and protracts further, up to 90 percent of the population of the country could face poverty and vulnerability to poverty. Economic disruption, combined with heavy internal displacement and flows of refugees, are causing large-scale losses of employment and incomes. Furthermore, the crisis has had a significant impact on the Ukrainian social protection system, in terms of both increased expenditure and decreased revenue. The ongoing war in Ukraine has led to immense demand for the sustaining of businesses, suppliers and the establishment of new businesses and supply chains. According to a recent UNDP report, the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine are sending tens of millions into poverty globally.

To ensure sustainable economic recovery and growth, the immediate actions and early recovery plans require a strong focus on human rights, gender equality, and non-discrimination. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) provide a framework for this.

The 3rd UN Regional Forum discussed the key challenges to the implementation of the UNGPs in the region, with a focus on the obstacles arising from the crises. It addressed key regional trends, challenges and opportunities for the business and human rights agenda in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with particular attention to the implications brought by conflicts and other crises, including the war in Ukraine on the political, economic, and human rights situation in the region.

Scoping the Ukrainian context for the UNGPs and heightened human rights due diligence

At the forum, UNDP Ukraine experts elaborated on the specific human rights impacts and human rights due diligence expectations of businesses operating in Ukraine. They presented the first findings of the Japan-supported Context Assessment Study*, which is intended to assist companies, their suppliers, and partners to manage potential and actual risks while doing business in a context of war.


The context assessment showed that, following the onset of the war, companies in Ukraine are directing their efforts to ensuring the safety and security of their employees. In this regard, the companies are doing their best, but often human rights issues are being addressed on a residual basis.

The representative sociological survey conducted for the study revealed that most people have experienced labour rights violations such as non-payment or incomplete payment of wages, and their have been cases of forced leave, and high safety risks. However, the focus groups showed that most Ukrainian companies are trying to minimize the impact of the war on their activities, and to observe the rights of employees. Some large companies are conducting internal research to identify the real state of compliance with human rights and the main bottlenecks. On the other hand, the war has demonstrated that a large proportion of formally registered policies could not pass the test of extreme conditions and require revision.

Lessons learned and next steps

The key lessons learned for business during the eight months of war could be described as 3 Rs: (i) respect for international legal standards, including the UNGPs and heightened human rights due diligence (hHRDD); (ii) responsibility to employees, consumers, communities; and (iii) resilience to operate during the times of crisis having a contingency plan and a clear crisis strategy. Despite the difficult conditions represented by dire humanitarian and economic impacts, companies operating in Ukraine are continuing to provide support to their employees through the provision of food and necessities, professional psychological support, arrangement of bomb shelters, additional financial support, payment of wages in advance, and help for children and families.

However, there is also a strong need for capacity building and awareness raising on business and human rights, with the provision of clear guidance for companies on what expectations they should meet under the UNGPs, especially during the war and post-recovery process. To address this, several UNDP-supported educational and raising awareness initiatives, including online courses for the Diia.Education platform, will be designed and launched to assist Ukrainian businesses to apply the UNGPs and hHRDD. Along with this, UNDP will work closely with its partners to promote the integration of business and human rights principles into recovery plans and policies.

The Context Assessment Study was conducted as part of the UNDP global project funded by the Government of Japan which is aimed at improving human rights standards in business by promoting implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The project interventions are designed to respond to the particular context of the war setting, and will serve two main purposes: (i) to guide companies to carry out hHRDD to assess, prevent and mitigate adverse impacts; and (ii) to help the Government of Ukraine to develop relevant policies and integrate business and human rights principles into strategic human rights documents tackling business-related human rights abuses. The project builds on the findings and recommendations of 2021 UNDP research and the 2019 National Baseline Assessment on Business and Human Rights.


UNDP in Ukraine is promoting human rights norms and values in Ukraine paying particular attention to UNGP implementation. In 2021, under the Human Rights for Ukraine project, UNDP launched a pilot initiative “Business and Human Rights in Ukraine - Accelerating Sustainable and Equitable Development through Implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” to identify baselines, gaps and opportunities and to fully understand the current situations of rights holders and duty bearers.

In 2022, UNDP launched a new global project “Human Rights Due Diligence in Global Supply Chains: Leveraging the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for a Just Recovery” funded by the Government of Japan.

In Ukraine these initiatives are part of the Human Rights for Ukraine project, which is being implemented by UNDP Ukraine and financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark between 2019 and 2023.

*The Context Assessment Study will be available by the end of 2022.