Doing business in conflict-affected countries

Making communications networks available to humanitarian relief organisations in post-conflict areas
Founded in Sweden in 1876, Ericsson provides telecommunications hardware and associated services to mobile and fixed line networks. Ericsson employs over 90,000 people worldwide and has operations in 175 countries.
Further information:
Sudan is characterised by long-standing tensions and an imbalance of power between the northern Arab/Muslim population and the southern African/Christian population. Tensions have spilled over into civil war several times since Sudan gained independence in 1956. The continuing conflict eventually led to South Sudan gaining its independence in July 2011, but this has not eliminated the prospect of war between the two states.

Dilemma: Operating in an area of civil and political unrest without contributing to the long-standing conflict

With the main form of communication in Sudan being by mobile phone, there is a danger that Ericsson’s equipment might be purchased by groups or individuals that use it to perpetuate the violence. For example the satellite telephone can be used by illegitimate armed groups in remote areas to maintain operational integrity and to execute operations that result in human rights violations. As a result, the irresponsible provision of goods could exacerbate the conflict, rather than abate it.

On the other hand, guaranteeing telecommunication services in war-torn area can help people to keep in touch and access help when necessary. This way, there is a real chance to make a tangible difference to people’s lives while pursuing a good investment opportunity.

Good Practice: Human rights reviews and obligatory end user agreements

In 2007 Ericsson contracted an independent human rights lawyer to conduct a review of human rights protection in the company’s business practices. The review found that Ericsson was not contributing to any human rights abuses in Sudan. Additionally, all customers and product distributors must sign an end user agreement which stipulates that Ericsson equipment may only be used for peaceful, non-military purposes.

Ericsson has also been invaluable in supporting humanitarian efforts. A mobile phone network was set up for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in southern Sudan to facilitate the coordination of humanitarian work. Ericsson also worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to set up services in refugee camps in northern Uganda, allowing aid workers to coordinate their activities and reunite victims with their families.

Results: Promoting transparency and accountability in the political system and improving safety

Ericsson’s adamant stance on human rights and strict compliance policy not only ensures that the company is not complicit in any human rights abuses, but also sets an example for other companies operating in similar circumstances. As an active adherent to the local UN Global Compact, Ericsson’s activities are guided by the principles of transparency and accountability, among other things. This in turn promotes the same principles in the political environment.

In addition to this, mobile phones can help to improve personal safety, allowing people, particularly those in remote areas, to inform each other of attacks, raids or other threats, and to locate each other should conflict displace them. This is also of urgent importance to humanitarian relief organisations, whose personnel and work may be endangered by ongoing unrest.