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Oppressive regimes

As of 2024, we no longer rate companies on oppressive regimes.

Our new updated list of countries governed by oppressive regimes explores the changes in the last five years. We look at how we have created this list, and how it relates to our rating of companies.

The list has several new countries added, but some have been removed. There are now 28 countries on our list of the world's oppressive regimes.

We have updated our list of oppressive regimes to reflect changes to political freedoms and oppression globally.

How do we use the list to rate companies?

Companies receive a rating in the Human Rights column on the score tables if they have operations in two or more countries on the oppressive regimes list.

For example, in our ethical shopping guide to dog food, Nestlé loses a whole mark under Human Rights for having operations in eighteen of these countries.

The rationale behind this is straightforward: companies benefit from the very conditions which contribute to oppression, such as harsh labour conditions, poor trade union rights, press repression, lax environmental regulations, and an economic environment conducive to corruption.

Furthermore, trading within oppressive regimes legitimises them to some extent, as well as helps make them financially viable. Oppressive regimes are supported by numerous economic ties, without which they would not survive. Foreign investment from international companies is a crucial element of this.

Sources used to create the list of oppressive regimes

Our list is compiled by collecting data on a range of indices on topics we deemed to indicate oppression. More detail on each one is provided below.

Click on the arrow to the right of the index title to show the text.

The Political Terror Scale is an academic index which analyses words used in Amnesty International, US State department, and Human Rights Watch reports in order to give an overall score on levels of state perpetrated violence within each country’s borders, such as torture and extra-judicial killings.

As the Political Terror Scale was considered to be the most comprehensive human rights score, it was weighted more heavily, and was scored out of eight. Each other indicator was scored out of two or one.

This is produced by Reporters Without Borders. It assesses “the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety”.

It is based on a mixture of numbers of journalists imprisoned and killed, and journalists’ responses to a questionnaire, which contains questions like “Are journalists frequently convicted because of their work, whether for press offences or for common law crimes?”

This is published by Amnesty International, and reports on the judicial use of the death penalty globally.

This is a new addition to our methodology, included to reflect the use of capital punishment as a tool of political repression. The report tracks countries which have carried out executions and those which have given execution sentences.

The ITUC Global Rights Index is based on its own analysis, using facts like whether workers are allowed to join trade unions and whether strikes have been repressed.

The Labour Rights Index monitors and rates the strength of employment legislation. We had to use both indexes because neither covered all countries.

We used this as a ‘positive’ rating as trade union rights were deemed to combat certain ill-effects of oppression (see ‘Balancing our rating’ below).

The SERF Index is an academic index which takes hard indicators for health, education, housing, food, and decent work (e.g. infant mortality numbers), and uses a statistical analysis to adjust them for GDP in order to show how efficiently each country is translating wealth into meaningful social welfare.

We used this as a ‘positive’ rating (see ‘Balancing our rating’ below).

Our list of countries under an organised boycott now covers Israel, Turkey, and Russia.

This indicator is included because there is a much stronger reason to boycott a country when it is part of an organised campaign with explicit, public goals, requested by the local population.

Changes to the new list

Most of the countries on the list have not changed. However, some countries have been removed – Burundi, Cambodia and Pakistan did not make the list this time due to strong SERF Index scores.

Eight countries have been added to the list, including India, which, given its current prominence in the global economy, is likely to impact the ethical ratings of many companies.

The 28 countries on our updated list are:

  • Algeria (NEW)
  • Bangladesh
  • Belarus (NEW)
  • Central African Republic
  • China
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (NEW)
  • Egypt
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • India (NEW)
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Libya
  • Mali (NEW)
  • Mexico
  • Myanmar
  • Nigeria
  • North Korea
  • Philippines
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan (NEW)
  • Sudan
  • Turkey
  • Uganda (NEW)
  • Venezuela (NEW)

Balancing our rating

Some argue against foreign direct investment, highlighting the risks of economic exploitation and resource extraction by large corporations. Others highlight the beneficial relationship between economic development and social (and political) progression.

We used the following method to try to weigh up the risks and benefits:

  • If the country’s per capita GDP (adjusted for different price levels in different countries) is over $15,000 we used only the Political Terror Scale, Press Freedom Index and Death Sentences report to determine whether a country went on the list.
  • If the country’s per capita GDP was under the global average, we used the SERF Index and ITUC Index to give them an adjusted score. This means that if a poorer country has a good record on translating money into social goods, and good trade union rights, they are less likely to go on the list. The thinking was that this makes it more likely that operating in the country will do some good.

Exempting countries in a state of humanitarian crisis

We also exempted countries listed by the ACAPS (an independent Norwegian analyst research centre) as being in the most acute state of humanitarian crisis. This is currently Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.

This was done for reasons of caution – because of the seriousness of the situation, we felt that we shouldn’t issue blanket pronouncements telling companies to get out. That being said, due to the risk of these places, it is very rare that we find companies operating in these countries.

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