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OPINION: Acid attacks are gender-based violence and companies need to do more to prevent them

by Jaf Shah | @Acid_Survivors | Acid Survivors Trust International
Thursday, 31 March 2022 08:00 GMT

Women who survived acid attacks and supporters protest demanding justice on the 8th anniversary of the attack on Carmen Sanchez by her partner, outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, February 20, 2022. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Acid attacks are gender-based violence and companies need to do more, writes Jaf Shah of Acid Survivors Trust International

Jaf Shah is executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI)

The story of an acid attack survivor is not easy to hear or understand. Acid is thrown predominantly at women and girls, to deliberately disfigure, maim and blind. It is a vicious form of premeditated violence. The tools of these attacks have to come from somewhere and it is incumbent on corporations to step up and take responsibility for where their production supplies are at all times, making it harder for perpetrators to access these substances.

Acid attacks are usually committed with sulphuric acid, a chemical that is used in most industries, particularly so in the textiles industry. It’s not a coincidence that places where the rate of acid attacks is high, a major contributing factor is its cheap and easy availability.

Corporations turn to countries where labour, production and supplies are cheap in order to keep their own costs down and they need sulphuric acid in large quantities to make their products. Large quantities which are obviously not secure and have been weaponised.

The issue of acid due diligence is not just one of the factories and production plants, it’s one that also should be addressed by investors and banks. Some investment organisations have already turned activist by addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting from the firms they hand money to.

This is great for the environment and admirable that investors are keeping an eye on the impact their funds may have, but it also needs to address the impact on human lives.

Ensuring that corporations are conducting risk and impact assessments, mitigating those risks, conducting due diligence of partners in the acid value chain and reporting effectively on acid attack risks is vital to helping end acid violence. This might sound like more paperwork, but if organisations are already reporting their environmental impact transparently, the frameworks are already there for acid violence to be included.

What’s more, impending new legislation such as the German Supply Chain Act (to be enforced in 2023) and EU intentions to introduce a mandatory human rights due diligence directive will enforce the need for corporate action. It makes no sense to wait for these legislative changes to arrive when business could so easily be ahead of the game.

Corporate vigilance and investor activism are part of the ecosystem for reducing the possibilities of acid attacks, but one of the most persuasive is the influence of consumers.

Business that wear their ecological and social purpose on their sleeves are being chosen by consumers. During the pandemic, consumer engagement with sustainable fashion has deepened. From packaging to production, shoppers are more aware of where items come from and what it is made from.

Brands and companies that are transparent about their processes, and are working towards a better treatment of the environment and their people, are getting a boost from this current interest.

Acid violence is a global problem. More than 1,500 attacks are recorded every year – but that’s only the ones that are reported, 60% are estimated to go unreported each year.

Carmen Sanchez, who survived an acid attack, protests along supporters demanding justice on the 8th anniversary of the attack by her partner, outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, February 20, 2022. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Eighty percent of attacks are on women: this is gender-based violence.

Preventing violence against women and girls is a development goal that is so important for achieving better lives for women and their families, communities and nations. To reduce acid violence is one way of making women around the world feel a bit safer.

The problem is not one where blame can be set at the feet of one particular organisation.

Investors, corporates and consumers all need to be aware that the items they purchase, invest in or create could be the source of a weapon that ends in lifelong injury, physical and psychological.

If corporations take responsibility for their role in the acid value chain and support due diligence, reporting and management, we’d be one step further along the path to eradicating the fear and pain resulting from these violent and shocking attacks.