By Celia Garrett

With all its projects, ICAR seeks to engage a wide set of actors and work collaboratively to affect change. Across the board, the organization believes its initiatives will more forcefully drive change if it engages relevant stakeholders to jointly develop practical policy solutions that move the agenda forward, rather than it working alone on lofty goals. This collaborative approach can sometimes entail moving at a gradual pace, yet in ICAR’s view, it’s more inclusive and comprehensive and establishes a proper foundation for more transformative change later on.

To advance this approach, ICAR harnesses the power of civil society organizations by forming coalitions of various civil society stakeholders, or building bridges between civil society actors and the business and/or government sectors. ICAR convenes meetings or workshops to provide platforms for exchanges of ideas and strategies between groups dealing with the same issues but approaching them from different perspectives. Such utilization of networks and coalitions provides a space for different stakeholders to share knowledge and successful practices, and it also helps amplify the messages and increase pressure on government and corporate actors to reform or adapt new policies.

For example, ICAR is working to build a coalition group to push for more effective design and implementation human rights oriented sanctions. To achieve this, ICAR brings together human rights organizations and national security policy organizations that handle sanctions policy from an economic or national security perspective to discuss how to break down silos and work together. Through this coalition, ICAR aims to strengthen the knowledge base of human rights organizations on sanctions implementation, so that human rights groups can engage with policy-makers to increase the effectiveness of new human right oriented sanctions or to bolster implementation of existing sanctions policy, such as the Global Magnitsky Act.

Although collaboration and compromise are sometimes seen as barriers to change, ICAR views them as critical in propelling change because participants can build connections and networks with business, government and civil society actors working to advance similar agendas. Creating spaces for open discussion advances alliances between civil society and business or government rather than corporations being a target of civil society critiques. These spaces enable productive discussions over what certain actors have the capacity to implement or reform, and more importantly why they should prioritize addressing such policies.

ICAR uses these coalitions to drive feasible forward progress. Success comes in inches; each project must simply move the business and human rights agenda forward. Such a collaborative approach may involve compromise, since cooperation with other stakeholders sometimes requires negotiation. However, it helps ICAR develop a more comprehensive strategy that considers various stakeholders’ perspectives. ICAR in turn designs their strategy around what practically may be accomplished by a certain initiative and adjusts it based on feedback from others. Sometimes, given current legislation and norms, seeking to change standards and practices dramatically can be impractical and risks weakening support and cooperation from businesses and States.

The sanctions collation begins by simply aiming to enhance human rights organizations’ understanding of the U.S. administration process of sanctions. The use of sanctions to effectively enforce human rights standards globally cannot be achieved with fostering a strong foundation. Civil society agents engaging with policy-makers must be highly informed on an issue area to achieve any effective advocacy – they must be prepared with sophisticated details and a nuanced understanding of the issue so as to frame their argument with different actors according to those actors’ priorities.

This practicality manifests in the concrete recommendations ICAR provides in its reports. In partnership with the International Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights, ICAR’s work on procurement proposes next steps for corporate and government actors to take to remedy abusive practices. Turning a Blind Eye? Respecting Human Rights in Government Purchasing can act as a preliminary roadmap, directing state actors in how to use the procurement process to leverage U.S. government purchasing power to drive government suppliers to respect human rights. ICAR’s current efforts focus on increasing transparency, and the identified forums of procurement reform outlined in the report are “realistic in terms of their economic, legal and political complexity.”

For example, ICAR’s seminal report on public procurement, Turning a Blind Eye? Respecting Human Rights in Government Purchasing, called for government-wide reform of procurement rules, but at the same time presented a policy menu for reforms at a smaller scale. This approach was developed based on an understanding of the difficulty in government-wide reform, and that more targeted suggestions may invite government engagement on a more practical level to move the agenda forward.

ICAR operates within the realm of what is feasible, without forgetting what is ideal. It maintains an awareness of the realities of the current status of business and human rights. With many initiatives, ICAR’s legal research has successfully informed innovative and effective policy solutions, which they have seen impact business and human rights legal framework in the United States and globally through coalition advocacy. Their campaigns and advocacy department will further amplify the call for implementation of these policies.