Alejandro González, corporate accountability human rights defender from Mexico

September 21, 2015

A bit belatedly, I refer to the interview (19 June 2015) with Alejandro González in the Newsletter of the ISHR. Alejandro is a human rights specialist who works for PODER, an award winning and multi-faceted civil society organisation based in Mexico that helps build the capacities of communities, workers, NGOs, and other civil society groups affected by corporate malfeasance and accompanies their accountability campaigns.

We help communities participate in the consultative process. In the end, it is about what communities want. We are not in favour or against the project. We make sure communities know their rights and are aware of the potential positive and negative impacts of the project.’ Free, prior and informed consent of the local communities is needed to pass development projects in indigenous regions of Mexico. Recent reforms, however, have opened the energy sector to both national and international investment. Mexico is currently in a maelstrom of speculation. ‘This is a dangerous situation. Many powerful companies in Mexico have a poor track record in human rights and we are concerned that local communities will lose their power to defend their land rights. Communities affected by gas speculation can either be obliged to sell their land or be forcibly dispossessed. It is vital that we observe, facilitate and publicise these negotiations.’

PODER, together with rural communities, is currently conducting an ex ante human rights impact assessment on extractive projects in Puebla, Mexico. In other states, such as Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Sonora, PODER conducts participatory research with communities and accompanies their advocacy efforts. In Oaxaca it is part of an international mission to monitor the Free, Prior and Informed Consent process regarding the construction of wind farms by Australian, Dutch, Japanese and Mexican corporations.

The government wants to use this case as a model – to set a precedent for all future negotiations. If it goes poorly, the consequences could be devastating … We have met frequently with the Dutch, European Union and other embassies to amplify the voices of local people. We have also conducted extensive research into the companies and provided this information to the community, to help them make informed decisions.’

Standing up to powerful economic actors is dangerous work. In 2013, Héctor Regalado Jiménez, member of the Popular Assembly of the Juchiteco People, was shot and killed after opposing the wind farms. ‘Another activist we were working with died in a suspicious car accident. We still don’t know what happened, but this is a common modus operandi in Mexico. The killers make it look like an accident. Community leaders are frequently subject to death threats and assaults.

Since PODER does not directly advocate on land rights issues, Alejandro is not in as much risk as the human rights defenders it supports, though he and his colleagues face increasing surveillance. He believes that a powerful political and corporate élite pose a major challenge to the work of business and human rights defenders across Mexico. ‘There is a small group of families who control most of the market. It is a secretive group who meet with the president and cabinet members behind closed doors. Together they decide the laws and regulations. That’s how they pushed through the reforms that opened up the energy sector.’

To address this lack of transparency in the government and private sector, PODER is involved in online platform  such as “Who’s Who Wiki” (rindeucentas.org) and ‘MéxicoLeaks’ – a whistleblowing tool that allows people to send information of public interest through secure technologies that protect the identity of the source. The information received through MéxicoLeaks is then verified, analyzed and published by the partners of the alliance, made up of civil organizations and media outlets. “The investigations that follow allegations communicated via ‘MéxicoLeaks’ are dangerous. In a two-year period, 10 journalists were murdered and 326 attacked. We have seen an increasing use of cyber attacks – as hackers force outlets offline or bombard them with viruses. Any journalist who exposes government corruption can expect to lose his job.”

Despite these adverse conditions, Alejandro is positive that good business practice is in the best interests of businesses. ‘We make corporations aware that human rights violations are a material risk. For example, if a company pollutes a river, there will be mobilisation and litigation against the company as well as a huge attack on their reputation – all of which costs money. Making corporations aware of the cost of violating human rights puts pressure on them to improve their due diligence.

In Mexico we would like to see a civil society powerful enough to be on equal footing with both the authorities and the private sector. For this you need information, complete transparency in everything the government does and strong accountability mechanisms. The private sector must prioritise human rights with due diligence, and not merely refrain from doing harm, but actively to do good.’

 

Alejandro González: Mexican corporate accountability human rights defender | ISHR.

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/mexico/

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