Trading With Oppressive Regimes

Introducing The Issue 

Are you 'wilfully complicit' in the Chinese government's genocide against the Uyghur peopleWhat are the chances that one day we'll all end up in "education and training" camps in a distant corner of Xinjiang being treated for the "disease" of "extremist ideology" because we don't fit ethnically? Winston Churchill said an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last.

If we turn a blind eye, if we shrug and tell ourselves we can't do anything about what happens inside China, and this is just the way the world works, then isn't it the case that we're complicit and appeasing. Democratic governments and international organisations struggle to hold oppressive regimes to account. Businesses and organisations can use their buying power and their voices to force change.

Describe What You Currently Do 

Responsible 100 has developed a number of introductory questions for both managers and employees. Our short question sets enable these key stakeholders to explore this important responsibility issue, relevant to their organisation, and to begin to describe current practices and views. Please respond with as much relevant information as possible. Nothing you submit will be shared or published without your permission.

Benchmark Performance Statements

  • EXCELLENT - The business actively and consistently demonstrates avoidance of all types of business relations with all regimes that are oppressive or coercive, and any businesses headquartered therein, and with any other supporters of the state or actors within it, whether they are other types of organisation, families or individuals, all in accordance with clearly stated and practical principles and guidelines, and monitors and reports on its avoidance strategies.
  • GOOD - The business actively avoids of all types of business relations with all regimes that are oppressive or coercive, and with any other supporters of the state or actors within it, whether they are other types of organisation, families or individuals, clearly explaining what it does, how and why. 
  • OKAY - The business avoids relations with all regimes that are oppressive or coercive on an ad hoc basis; OR seeks to use business relations with regimes that are oppressive or coercive, and their actors or supporters, to lever for reform and help bring about the end to all human rights abuses; OR the business explains why this issue is not relevant or material to it. 
  • POOR - The business knowingly conducts business relations with oppressive regimes and/or those regimes’ actors or supporters; OR the company is not concerned whether it supports such states through its business relationships, dealings and/or value chain or not; OR the business does not respond to credible reports or evidence of its links with and support for oppressive regimes. 

Responsible 100 creates and develops detailed benchmarks on each of the issues we explore. The above reveals only summaries of the current statements describing POOR, OKAY, GOOD and EXCELLENT performance standards. No policy nor practice examples are included here. The complete benchmarks are shared with organisations which, through offering answers to the above questions, help to shape and improve the benchmarks on an ongoing basis. Find out more about our benchmarks here.

Exploring The Issue

When it comes to the apparent disregard for human rights and norms from nation states, both China and Saudi Arabia often spring to mind. But, currently, it is perhaps Russia that stands out as the preeminent oppressive, aggressive and autocratic state on the global map.

China in particular has shown no interest in protecting the human rights of its citizens, more possibly viewing these rights as an existential threat. China’s government has repeatedly tried to strip Muslims of their culture, religion, and independent political viewpoints.

Saudi Arabia is continuing to suppress human rights through limiting freedom of expression, abusive power in the criminal justice system and the unrelenting oppression of women's rights.

Russia’s unjustified attack on Ukraine was supported by many of Russia’s oligarchs, in which trading within oppressive regimes played a crucial role in funding the war. The indirect support of an organisation's economic routines can help oppressive regimes prolong their efforts.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights “apply to all States and to all business enterprises, both transnational and others, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure.” These principles establish that all businesses have an explicit role in the realisation of human rights. They have a responsibility to respect them and to take steps to avoid infringing the rights of others, and to address any adverse human rights impacts which result from their corporate activity.

Foreign investment and business play a key role in helping developing countries to reduce poverty and build their economy. But business can also have the opposite effect of perpetuating political repression by helping to sustain and fund governments that oppress their own people.

Organisations have a responsibility in choosing to be in opposition to oppressive regimes, many of which aim to secure silence in its oppression. Growing demands of accountability should inspire businesses to be socially responsible by resisting trade with oppressive states and their business enterprises. Currently, local television authorities in France are beginning to implement various measures by limiting football broadcasting, concerning association with current developing issues in Qatar, in respect of unjustified human right violations.

A company that undertakes any business with a military or other coercive regime runs the risk of contributing directly or indirectly to human rights violations. Even when business activities and operations do not, in themselves, play a role in such abuses, a company may risk significant damage to its own reputation through association with such a regime.

Deciding whether to trade or not to trade in association with oppressive regimes will ultimately decide the level of resistance within levels of society and business. And, as such, businesses in other parts of the world may choose to act to encourage and attempt to aid unprejudiced human right norms, particularly in countries who violate international law today. Or they may choose not to.


Below are some of the characteristics which EdenTree suggest are likely to be prevalent in 'Oppressive Regimes':

>> Authoritarian (single-party, tribal or Monarchic government); or totalitarian (military or civilian dictatorship)
>> Absence of the rule of law; arbitrary detention; disappearances; extra-judicial executions
>> Persecutions of sections of society, possibly including 'ethnic cleansing', genocide, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities
>> Torture used as part of the judicial or extra-judicial process
>> Suppression of civil society institutions
>> Restrictions on freedom of expression; persecution of human rights advocates, trades unions
>> Restrictions on freedom of movement; forced deportation
>> Restrictions on media, including censorship, surveillance, and persecution
>> State-sanctioned slave- or bonded- labour; systemic child labour
>> State-sponsored persecution or discrimination of women and girls by virtue of gender (e.g. female genital mutilation)
>> Occupation of disputed territories

EdenTree's list of oppressive regimes contains Freedom House's 'Worst of the Worst' (i.e. Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Central African Republic, and Libya), as well as China, Egypt, Russia and a number of the Gulf States.

Links, News And Further Resources

2024 Paris Olympics: Up to 40 countries could boycott Games, says Poland sports minister

Poland's sport and tourism minister Kamil Bortniczuk after Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia jointly reject an International Olympic Committee (IOC) plan to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in 2024. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if that occurs.

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