No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and HRDs

November 11, 2015

On 19 October Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, wrote a piece for the Monitor of the ISHR under the title “No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders”“At the commencement of my mandate as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders I committed to focus on those defenders who are most exposed or most at risk. As part of this commitment I conducted consultations with over 500 human rights defenders from over 110 States from all regions of the world. As my recent report to the UN General Assembly records, one of the categories of defenders which emerged as most at risk in all regions was those working in the business and human rights, including those working on land and environment rights.

The evidence and testimony I received from the ground reinforced recent reports from the likes of ISHR, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Global Witness, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders which point to the particular threats, risks and restrictions faced by this group of defenders, whether they work in Africa, Asia, Latin America or in Western European States. These threats, risks and restrictions range from surveillance, to stigmatisation, to the inappropriate and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, especially those protesting the activities of the extractives industries”

The particular vulnerability of human rights defenders working in the field of business and human rights arises from three key factors:

  1. the false dichotomy often propagated between development on the one hand and respect for human rights on the other. Stigmatisation of HRDs as ‘anti-development’, ‘economic saboteurs’, ‘eco-terrorists’, or ‘foreign agents’.
  2. the work of human rights defenders working in the field of business and human rights often involves promoting transparency, exposing violations and combating corruption, and so exposing them to retaliation by State and non-State actors, including private military and security companies (particularly in the context of the extractive industries) and organized crime.
  3. the weakness in regulation of many non-State actors, both at the national and international levels. The specific protection of human rights defenders through national laws and policies and in any international treaty negotiated in the field of business and human rights is vital in this regard.

The Special Rapporteur has earlier made a number of recommendations to both States and businesses. For States it is imperative that human rights defenders are actively engaged in the process of elaboration of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and that any such action plan contains concrete commitments and measures to facilitate and protect defenders’ work. Both States and businesses should also engage human rights defenders in human rights impact assessment and due diligence processes for major projects – effective up-front engagement can avoid human rights risks and costs.

In relation to businesses, he recommends inter alia that they play an active role in supporting and promoting the role of human rights defenders working in their sectors. This should include, for example, speaking out when human rights defenders are targeted for their corporate accountability work, as major jewelers like Tiffany & Co positively did when human rights defender and journalist Rafael Marques was prosecuted for his work exposing corruption in the Angolan diamond industry.

“When it comes to business and human rights defenders, business as usual is not good enough. Corporations, States and the UN human rights system alike must recognise the vital role of human rights defenders in promoting corporate responsibility and accountability and support and protect them in this crucial work.”

Michel Forst is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. Follow him on Twitter at @ForstMichel.ISHR-logo-colour-high

See more at: No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders | ISHR

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