Business and Human Rights Special Edition
The 4th Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights
The 2015 Forum on Business and Human Rights will feature an extensive collection of debates, discussions and networking opportunities for human rights defenders.
Here, ISHR summarises some of the key events and opportunities at the Forum. Take part in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BizHumanRights … read more
No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders
By Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights defenders
Among those human rights defenders most at risk are those working on business and human rights. In my report to the UN General Assembly I elaborate that this particular vulnerability arises from three key factors, which States and businesses can take particular action to address... more
about this monitor
In the context of rapid globalisation, informed discussion and understanding of the work of human rights defenders to promote corporate respect for human rights and accountability for corporate-related violations is becoming ever more important.
This year’s UN Forum on Business and Human Rights recognises the importance of defenders and a concern for the risks they face, whilst pulling together States, businesses, UN agencies, plus the defenders themselves, to discuss solutions.
ISHR is devoting this Human Rights Monitor to the issue of human rights defenders and corporate accountability. ISHR invited a range of stakeholders to contribute with a view to promoting mutual understanding, across all sectors, of the key challenges facing defenders working in the context of business and the key initiatives needed to protect and support them.
All of the articles in this publication are also available in Spanish and French. The content of the articles reflect the views of the individual authors, and not necessarily of ISHR.
Human rights defender profiles
Muchamad Darisman: Human rights defenders from Indonesia
Muchamad Darisman speaks to ISHR about his work to monitor and improve the working conditions in garment factories, and to raise awareness of occupational disease and victims’ rights. Darisman is a human rights defenders in Indonesia, where violence at work and occupational safety and health risks are common, workers lack knowledge about their rights, and progressive expansion of agricultural plantations confront civil society... more
Jean-Pierre Okenda: human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo
After a number of years working with human rights organisations, Jean-Pierre Okenda coordinates a platform of civil society organisations in the mining sector. Okenda spoke to ISHR about his story and the challenges of working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where human rights defenders working on extractives issues face real and serious risks, sometimes from the very same individuals or institutions that are meant to be protecting them... more
Alberto Solis Castro: Human rights defender from Mexico
Alberto Solis Castro’s work with Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz is intertwined with the changing situation of indigenous communities in Mexico, where mining remains the largest threat. Castro talks to ISHR about the need for the support of international actors, as international businesses do not follow national legislation to protect indigenous communities, and the Government will not ratify UN legislation to protect economic, cultural and social rights... more
Will McCallum: Human rights defender from the United Kingdom
Will Mccallum speaks to ISHR about his work for Greenpeace in the UK, where making full use of the freedom of information system or judicial reviews puts environmental rights defenders in the firing line. The general anti-NGO sentiment of the Government has manifested itself not only in defamatory public statements by the authorities, but also in official limitations imposed on NGO activities... more
How business can and should protect human rights defenders: speaking out and developing partnerships
Can companies speak out to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders?
By Mauricio Lazala, Deputy Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
What can be done to counteract the trend of restricting the legitimate work of activists? While States have the primary obligation to respect human rights, companies have an important role to play - especially in the business and human rights sphere. A few companies have helped to create and expand enabling environments for human rights, which in turn makes it easier for those companies to do business. However, far too many remain silent... more
World Bank must protect civil society actors from retaliation and reprisals
By Jessica Evans, Senior Researcher and Advocate, and Sarah Saadoun, Leonard H. Sandler Fellow, Human Rights Watch
As a public institution with a mandate to alleviate poverty, the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation should be leaders in due diligence to protect people harmed by projects it finances, including people suffering intimidation or harassment for speaking out about harm caused by those projects. The unwillingness of these institutions to take a firm stand against efforts to silence critics is a manifestation of the Bank Group’s broader repudiation of its human rights responsibilities... more
Microsoft & DLA Piper – Why Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders are Right for our Business
By Nicholas Patrick, Pro Bono Partner, DLA Piper, and Owen Larter, UK Government Affairs Manager, Microsoft Ltd
Increasingly global multi-national corporations are committing to conducting business in a way that respects human rights. For many, the motivations result from commitments made to international initiatives. For others, positive business impacts associated with respecting human rights influence this commitment. Rights-respecting businesses need to start to seriously assess how the restrictions being placed on NGOs expands the role and responsibility of the business community... more
Business and civil society: working together to promote corporate respect for land and environment rights
By Brent Wilton, Director, Global Workplace Rights, The Coca-Cola Company; and David Bledsoe, Sr. Director Corporate Partnerships, Landesa
Thanks to the bravery of many human rights defenders around the world, corporations are beginning to understand the importance of respecting human rights with regard to the land they or their suppliers lease, use or impact. As their operations and supply chains extend into many of the countries where ISHR has partners, from Cambodia to Colombia, ISHR asked The Coca-Cola Company to discuss the importance of working with civil society to reach their goal of zero land grabs... more
Global supply chains; engage with human rights defenders to sharpen standards and increase transparency
By Michael Posner, Jerome Kohlberg Professor at the NYU Stern School of Business
The rapid growth of supply chains has brought new challenges, subjecting many of those who work in these industries to exploitation and unsafe working conditions. Greater attention needs to be directed to tackling human rights challenges throughout global supply chains, including by creating greater transparency - a process in which human rights defenders have a vital role to play... more
Key advocacy spaces for human rights defenders working on corporate accountability
This is a brief compilation of key spaces available to human rights defenders working on corporate accountability at international and regional level, and through civil society initiatives. It intends to provide a starting point for orienting advocacy work by and for human rights defenders working on corporate accountability at international and regional level, and not to provide an exhaustive list of initiatives in the area of business and human rights.
In order to discuss the trends and challenges in the implementation of those Guiding Principles and to promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights, a Forum on Business and Human Rights has been held every year since 2012 and is open to all relevant stakeholders, including in particular human rights defenders. There is an increasing focus on human rights defenders in the agenda of the Forum, with two specific panels dedicated to human rights defenders in 2015 focusing on women human rights defenders and on the role of business in protecting defenders respectively.
In June 2014, the Human Rights Council mandated an Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG), tasked with commencing work towards the drafting of an international legally binding treaty on business and human rights. In July 2015 the IGWG had their first session, more information and reports can be found here.
Finally, the UN Global Compact initiative, is intended as a practical framework for the development, implementation, and disclosure of sustainability policies and practices by businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles.
BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT THE AFRICAN LEVEL
The ACHPR has a Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations, established by Resolution 148 which was adopted at the 46th Ordinary Session held in 2009. The mandate of the Working Group is principally to examine the impact of extractive industries within the context on the African Charter and undertake research on issues pertaining to the right of all peoples to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources, as well as gathering information on cases and on how to hold liable non-state actors. The resolutions and reports are available here.
The Working Group also collaborates with interested donors and NGOs. To find out how NGOs can engage with the Commission, obtain an observer status, participate to the NGO Forum and submit reports, click here.
The Working Group is in the process of holding sub-regional consultations. Having held its Central Africa consultation in mid-2015, a West Africa consultation is planned for early 2016.
BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT THE EUROPEAN LEVEL
The Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH), on the Committee of Minister’s request, prepared a preliminary document listing the existing standards and outstanding issues in the field of business and human rights. The CDDH was then instructed with the task of drafting a political declaration supporting the UN Guiding Principles, as well as a non-binding instrument, which may include a guide of good practice, addressing gaps in the implementation of the Guiding Principles at the European level. For this purpose, it set up a Drafting Group on Human Rights and Business, which already elaborated a Declaration of the Committee of Ministers supporting the UN Guiding Principles. For more information and documentation, click here.
BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE ASEAN REGION
In June 2014, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) finalized its first thematic study, which focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights in ASEAN. The study can be used as a tool of promotion and protection of human rights in the business sector, and shows the commitment of this ASEAN human rights body to take into account corporate responsibility in future policy frameworks in the region.
It is noteworthy that the General Assembly of the OAS adopted in June 2014 a resolution entitled “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Business”. The Resolution, amongst others, urged States and the IACHR to disseminate the UN Guiding Principles, and requested the Permanent Council to hold a special meeting, through the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs in first quarter 2015, to foster exchange of experiences and best practices on the topic.
The Guidelines establish that firms should respect human rights in every country in which they operate, as well as environmental and labour standards.
NGOs can submit a "specific instance" or a "complaint" about alleged breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (Guidelines) to a government’s National Contact Point (NCP). For a guide on how NGOs should use this procedure, click here.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre also has its own publications such as briefings on corporate legal accountability, on business and freedom of association, on information and communications technology, on business and children, on private military and security companies, as well as country and regional briefings.
GUIDES FOR NGOs, VICTIMS AND COMMUNITY-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
FIDH has elaborated a comprehensive tool for victims, NGOs and other civil society groups to seek justice and obtain reparation for victims of human rights abuses involving multinational corporations. The guide explores the different types of recourse mechanisms available, and is available in English and in French.
Finally, we can note initiatives to elaborate simpler, more accessible guides for community-based human rights defenders. Examples of such initiatives, developed by Protection International, are the Protection Guide for Human Rights Defenders in Rural Areas, available in Spanish and Q’eqchi’, and the Protection Manual for Community-based Human Rights Defenders in Thai.
Increasing recognition of defenders’ role on business and human rights amidst serious challenges and threats
By Michael Ineichen, Programme Manager (Corporate Accountability) and Head of Human Rights Council Advocacy, ISHR
Today there exists a broad consensus that human rights defenders working to promote corporate respect for human rights, and accountability when violations occur, face extraordinary risks and need specific protection by States and business. However, this recognition is relatively recent and remains uneven... more
How’s the business environment in your country? Look to civil society as a barometer
By Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
Governments are bending over backwards to create enabling environments for commerce, but many are doing the opposite for civil society. The question then arises ‘why can’t States do the same for civil society?’ This question is particularly pertinent because there is convergence between the interests: when civil society does well, business also does well... more
Recent developments: Treaty, Treaty Bodies and National Action Plans
The first session of the Intergovernmental Working Group: an appraisal
Human rights defenders and businesses: the elephant in the room?
By Geneveive Paul, Head of Globalisation andHuman Rights Desk, FIDH
The strong presence of civil society at the first session of the Intergovernmental Working Group is a testament to the persistent corporate-related human rights abuses that exist and to the global civil society demand for an instrument to help to prevent and remedy such abuses... more
The voice of civil society must remain central to the IGWG
By Ben Leather, Advocacy, Training and Communications Manager, ISHR
At the first session of the Intergovernmental Working Group, Ecuador and the OHCHR took important measures to guarantee civil society participation. However more can, and should, be done to integrate the voice of human rights defenders into the debate in a safe way. Here, we examine how. A treaty will only be useful if it responds to the needs and demands of victims and defenders; if States are serious about ending violations in the context of business, they must ensure these voices remain central to the discussion... more
A binding treaty on business and human rights
Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights
By Ambassador María Fernanda Espinosa, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations in Geneva
The creation of a binding instrument has been described as an opportunity to close a gap in the international human rights framework and set norms of universal observance for transnational corporations. However, numerous challenges remain, including the constructive engagement of several countries that have so far chosen not to get involved in the process... more
Treaty bodies’ engagement with business and human rights issues
Opportunities for Human Rights Defenders to enforce corporate accountability: enforcing the extra-territorial obligation to protect human rights
By Bret Thiele, Co-Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Driven by civil society, UN treaty bodies have begun to seriously apply the extra-territorial obligation to protect human rights in the context of business. Both the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee have created important jurisprudence reiterating the duty of States to regulate the behaviour of their businesses abroad, providing useful new tools for defenders... more
An update on National Action Plans: Who is developing what?
Incorporating human rights defenders into the global trend of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights
By Sara Blackwell, Legal & Policy Coordinator, ICAR
The increasingly global focus on National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights is an opportunity to put the onus back on States to fulfil their duty to protect human rights from adverse corporate impacts. While adequate incorporation of human rights defenders into the process and content of NAPs has not yet been achieved, this increased government engagement on business and human rights can also be used to hold States accountable to protect and support defenders... more
BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS: CHALLENGES AHEAD
By H.E. Steffen Kongstad, Ambassador of Norway to the UN in Geneva
There are many examples of improvements in the area of business and human rights, however the challenges are many and diverse. While international instruments could be necessary, governments must also step up national efforts, through legislative and policy reform, to prevent and address human rights violations caused by business... more
A view from the regions: business, human rights defenders and regional mechanisms
Inter-American Commission President calls situation of land rights defenders working on business and human rights ‘a total disgrace’
ByEleanor Openshaw, Programme Manager (NGO Participation) and Head of Regional Advocacy and Ben Leather, Advocacy, Training and Communications Manager, ISHR
Following a request made by a coalition of 39 national, regional and international organisations working across the Americas, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission held a landmark first-ever hearing examining the role of businesses in violations against defenders working on land and environment rights... more
Defenders’ work is key to ensuring accountability of extractive companies
By Clement Voulé Programme Manager (States in Transition) and Head of African Advocacy, ISHR, and member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in frica of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
All too often, multinational corporations seek to maximise profit, while governments seek to attract investment, regardless of the negative consequences on human rights. The work of human rights defenders is therefore essential in holding multinationals accountable for cutting corners to enhance profits. As such, the African Commission Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa has the protection of defenders as a core part of its mandate. By protecting defenders it seeks justice for affected communities and holds corporations to account for malpractice... more
ISHR: supporting corporate accountability defenders in their international work
Over the past 12 months, ISHR has trained tens of human rights defenders working on the issue of business and human rights, as well as providing them with direct support and advice in carrying out international advocacy.
Defenders from Australia, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, Mongolia, Sweden, Tanzania, Venezuela and Vietnam – amongst many other countries – have been trained by ISHR through a range of workshops, whether over two weeks in Geneva, several days in-country, one-day overviews or sessions with a specific focus on the issue of corporate accountability.
Participants learn about how to interact in a strategic way with the UN Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and Universal Periodic Reviews, as well as the Treaty Bodies. They are brought up to speed regarding international developments around the issue of business and human rights and given tips on advocacy techniques.
When trainings take place in Geneva, ISHR has facilitated meetings with Special Procedures, diplomats, treaty body members and INGOs, so that the human rights defenders put their skills into practise immediately, advocating on their issues and making contacts for their future international advocacy.
This November, around the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, ISHR will welcome to Geneva 9 defenders from 8 countries for a short training and joint strategizing session, as well as accompanied advocacy at the Forum itself.
In 2016 ISHR plans to continue to strengthen the expertise of defenders working on corporate accountability, with an intensive two-week training and accompanied advocacy programme planned for June, and country-specific trainings including in Colombia in January.
Key resources for human rights defenders working for business and human rights
ISHR submissions & reports
A regional report on the specific and additional risks faced by human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory and the environment in the Americas; the responsibility of the State and business (an analysis by a coalition of 39 organisations from 12 countries presented at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October 2015).
An analysis by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre of more than 200 lawsuits against companies over the last decade found that legal harassment of human rights defenders working to hold businesses accountable for human rights abuse is on the rise. This analysis included several recommendations, including to governments
Key 2016 Opportunities for human rights defenders working on corporate accountability
Throughout 2016 there are a number of advocacy opportunities for human rights defenders in the international and regional systems, and in the context of the development of national action plans. This is an indicative, non-exhaustive outlook on the coming year.
Opportunities within the United Nations System
Human Rights Council
The 31th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva (March) will see, among other things, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders' annual thematic report. It is likely to contain a section on defenders working on business and human rights issues. The high-level segment of the Council, and in particular the civil society portion of it, will also provide an opportunity to profile human rights defenders issues.
During an upcoming session of the Council the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is expected to present a report which intends to have a focus on corporate accountability.
The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises will also present its annual report.
Intergovernmental working group on a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises
At a hearing held in October 2015, a large coalition of civil society organisations has requested the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to increase attention toward the situation of human rights defenders working on business and human rights. Find more information here.
National Action Plans on business and human rights
This is an indicative list (not an exhaustive one), sourced from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and research and advocacy undertaken by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, of:
States that have produced a National Action Plan on business and human rights: The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden.
States that have produced a draft National Action Plan on business and human rights: Italy, Spain.
States that are in the process of developing a National Action Plan on business and human rights or have committed to doing so: Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia. France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Latvia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Tanzania, USA.
States in which either the National Human Rights Institution or civil society have begun steps in the development of a National Action Plan on business and human rights: Ghana, Kazakhstan, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Tanzania, Zambia.