Working Group on business and human rights calls for States to ensure protection for defenders


States should ensure protection for human rights defenders who raise awareness of the impacts of business activities, the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations has told the Human Rights Council. 

States should ensure protection for human rights defenders who raise awareness of the impacts of business activities, the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations has told the Human Rights Council.

A joint statement delivered by Norway during the dialogue with the Working Group noted the 'high number of submissions on alleged abuses linked to business activities' and reaffirmed 'the important and legitimate role of trade unions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders in raising awareness of the human rights impacts and risks of some business enterprises and activities'.

The Working Group also emphasised that States are obligated to ensure that businesses are aware of the need to respect the rights of human rights defenders.

The Working Group’s mandate is due to be renewed at this session and Norway is leading the resolution to achieve this. There was widespread support from States for the Working Group and the need for it to continue its work, with several States, including Russia and Norway, noting that the efforts being made by States to implement the Guiding Principles pointed to the universal nature of the standards developed.

Despite progress made there was general agreement amongst States that there was still much to do. However disagreement emerged about the best way forwards.

Ecuador is leading a resolution at this session to start the process of drafting a treaty on human rights and transnational obligations. While a significant number of States welcomed this initiative, the US and some EU States expressed a preference for focusing on implementation of the Guiding Principles, rather than getting distracted by what the US said could be a lengthy process of negotiating a legally binding treaty. The US felt that the international community has already made a strong global political commitment to the Guiding Principles, which renders a legally binding treaty unnecessary.

The Working Group itself said that any process to negotiate a treaty should carefully consider whether and how it would overcome gaps in States’ implementation of their existing human rights obligations. Furthermore it should not undermine progress achieved or slow down the momentum around implementation of the Guiding Principles.

One of the initiatives of the Working Group has been to encourage the development of national action plans on business and human rights. The UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy have already published their national action plans. During the dialogue with the Working Group several other States announced their own intentions in this regard, including Germany, Colombia, Belgium, France and Switzerland, while others, such as Sierra Leone, asked what financial assistance might be available to assist States to develop a national action plan. The African Group offered to support the Working Group in its efforts to build a database on national action plans in order to gather best practice.

One particular example of best practice is the recognition in the UK's national action plan of the risks faced by human rights defenders working on corporate accountability. The plan has three commitments in this regard: to support human rights defenders via UK missions and embassies in line with the EU guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders; to support civil society and trade union efforts to access effective remedies for violations; and to support and encourage businesses to develop effective grievance mechanisms in consultation with human rights defenders.

ISHR will be closely following the negotiations to renew the mandate of the Working Group and will be calling for the Council to recognise the crucial role of human rights defenders in promoting corporate responsibility and accountability, and to respond to the disturbing pattern of attacks against defenders who undertake this work.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, on or + 41 76 708 4738


  • Corporate accountability
  • Human rights defenders
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Belgium
  • Colombia
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Sierra Leone
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States