Business enterprises: Consult, respect and protect human rights defenders, says cross regional group of NGOs

18.11.2015

Business can and should play a proactive positive role to engage and support human rights defenders and civil society, a cross/regional group of rights organisations together with ISHR said today .

UN BHR Forum Panel on HRDs & Business

See the statement, supported by 39 organisations, here!

(Update, 1 December 2015 - the South Africa Litigation Centre also adheres to this statement)

(Geneva) – Business can and should play a proactive positive role to engage and support human rights defenders and civil society, a cross regional group of 39 rights organisations together with ISHR said today on the occasion of the United Nation’s Forum on Business and Human Rights.

The statement highlights concrete ways for businesses to consult, respect and protect human rights defenders, while also deploring the significant risks to their lives and livelihoods many human rights defenders face on a daily basis. As documented by a range of civil society groups, including ISHR, HRW, Global Witness and FIDH most recently, human rights defenders working to promote corporate respect for human rights and accountability for violations work under threats of abductions, surveillance, intimidation, violence and sometimes death, as a result of their efforts to defend human rights in the face of harmful business activities.

‘The continuing trend of attacks and acts of intimidation by State and non-State actors against those protesting against actual and potential adverse impacts of business operations and major development projects is of grave concern,’ said Michael Ineichen, ISHR’s Corporate Accountability Programme Manager. ‘This call from defenders from all continents clearly shows the opportunity for business to show leadership in standing with defenders and help to reverse this trend’ Mr Ineichen said.

The challenges facing human rights defenders has been recognised by relevant UN officials, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in his 2015 reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

As documented in ISHR’s new Human Rights Defender Toolkit for Promoting Business Respect for Human Rights, there is a strong business case for proactively respecting and protecting human rights - on the basis that it protects a company’s reputation, safeguards its customer and investor base, assists in attracting and retaining employees and reduces operational and legal costs. Both corporations and human rights defenders have a shared interest in an operating environment which respects the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and is characterised by transparent and accountable governance, freedom from corruption, and respect for the rule of law.

Some of the steps which business can take are legal obligations, such as the requirement to desist from direct or indirect attacks against them. Others, such as speaking out publicly in support of HRDs who are at risk, constitute good business practice, the statement said.

The statement was developed in the context of an ISHR capacity building and strategy workshop for human rights defenders working on business and human rights issues, and engaging actively in the UN’s Forum on Business and Human Rights. It was endorsed by a range of national human rights organisations working in this area.

‘The mobilisation of human rights defenders around UN-led processes on business and human rights shows the importance of such forums in contributing to national-level strategies to enhance the protection of rights,' said Ben Leather, ISHR’s Training Manager. ‘It is also a critical space for defenders to share strategies and develop common positions – such as this one – thereby reinforcing the impact of their work’, Mr Leather said.

Concrete suggestions to business

The statement shows concrete ways for businesses to consult, respect and protect human rights defenders, including by implementing one or more of the following recommendations, depending on the circumstances:

Business must respect and engage with HRDs, such as by:

  • Desisting from physical or legal attacks against HRDs, including those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and protest against the business or its interests;

  • Meaningfully consulting with HRDs in the design, implementation and evaluation of projects, and in due diligence and human rights impact assessment processes;

  • Advising and educating clients, suppliers and peers as to their obligations in relation to HRDs.

Business should support and partner with HRDs, such as by:

  • Encouraging home and host governments to consult with HRDs in the elaboration of national action plans on business an human rights (NAPs) and to include concrete measures and commitments to support HRDs in such NAPs;

  • Encouraging home governments to speak out in support of HRDs through their diplomatic representations in States in which the company operates and HRDs are restricted.

Business can advocate and seek remedy for HRDs at risk, and against laws and policies that restrict them, such as by:

  • Joining or supporting, in an appropriate way, a campaign or coalition in support of HRDs and against attacks and restrictions against them;

  • Speaking out in general terms in support of HRDs and a safe and enabling environment for civil society;

  • Speaking out in individual cases of attacks or restrictions against HRDs or in relation to proposed or enacted laws or policies that restrict or criminalise them;

  • Advocating to governments in relation to individual cases, laws or policies.

Business should make additional efforts and take specific action to engage and protect women human rights defenders and other groups facing particular risks:

  • Recognising and addressing the fact that women human rights defenders can face increased exclusion and specific risks;

  • Taking additional positive actions to consult and protect women human rights defenders, indigenous defenders and minority groups;

  • Ensuring that a response to the particular situations of women human rights defenders, indigenous defenders and minority groups is included across all business action related to human rights defenders.

For more information, contact ISHR’s Michael Ineichen, m.ineichen@ishr.ch, or Ben Leather, b.leather@ishr.ch.

Category:

Topic
  • Corporate accountability
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council