Posts Tagged ‘corporate accountability’

Human Rights Council recognises vital role of environmental human rights defenders

March 23, 2019

The ISHR reports that on 21 March 2019 the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a strong consensus resolution recognising the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and ensuring that no-one is left behind. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/].

The resolution meets many of the civil society demands ISHR expressed in a joint letter along with more than 180 groups (see reference below). By formally acknowledging the important role of environmental human rights defenders, the Council highlights the legitimacy of their work, helps counter stigmatisation and can contribute to expanding their operating space. Though the resolution falls short in some key areas, its adoption by consensus is a positive step towards better protection of environmental human rights defenders. It must now be followed by implementation at the national level by all relevant stakeholders, including States, UN agencies, businesses and development finance institutions….

The resolution was led and presented by Norway, on behalf of 60 States from all regions. In particular, many Latin American States strongly supported the resolution, which is significant given the dangerous situation for defenders in many of those countries. The consensus on the protection of environmental human rights defenders is a welcome sign of unity by the international community in recognising their vital contribution to a biodiverse and healthy environment, to peace and security, and to human rights.

We now look to States, business enterprises and development finance institutions to take rapid and decisive steps to address the global crisis facing environmental human rights defenders’, said Michael Ineichen, Programme Director at the International Service for Human Rights. ‘This means States need to create protection mechanisms which guarantee the security of defenders. States must also ensure that businesses put in place specific policies and processes allowing for the inclusion of human rights defenders and their concerns in due diligence processes’, Ineichen said.   

Key points of the resolution:

  • Expresses alarm at increasing violations against environmental defenders, including killings, gender-based violence, threats, harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, criminalisation, judicial harassment, forced eviction and displacement. It acknowledges that violations are also committed against defenders’ families, communities, associates and lawyers;
  • Recognises that the protection of human rights defenders can only be achieved through an approach which promotes and celebrates their work. It also calls for root causes of violations to be addressed by strengthening democratic institutions, combating impunity and reducing economic inequalities;
  • Pays particular attention to women human rights defenders, by stressing the intersectional nature of violations and abuses against them and against indigenous peoples, children, persons belonging to minorities, and rural and marginalised communities;
  • Urges States to adopt laws guaranteeing the protection of defenders, put in place holistic protection measures for and in consultation with defenders, and ensure investigation and accountability for threats and attacks against environmental human rights defenders; and
  • Calls on businesses to carry out human rights due diligence and to hold meaningful and inclusive consultations with defenders, potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders.

While the resolution was adopted by consensus, the unity came at the price of a lack of specificity in certain areas. For instance, the resolution does not clearly recognise all of the root causes of the insecurity facing environmental human rights defenders, as documented by UN experts, nor comprehensively name the perpetrators or the most dangerous industries. It also fails to clearly spell out the human rights obligations of development finance institutions, and to detail the corresponding necessary steps to consult, respect and protect the work of environmental human rights defenders. 

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc40-council-unanimously-recognises-vital-role-environmental-human-rights-defenders

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc40-states-should-defend-environmental-human-rights-defenders

Davos: businesses need strong human rights defenders

January 21, 2019

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos is going on and has this year a strong humanitarian element as shown inter alia in the article “Why businesses are nothing without strong human rights” published on 16 January 2019 by 3 authors, who have earned their reputation:

A human rights activists demonstrates in Santiago, Chile.

Profit depends on a rule of law maintained by courageous campaigners. Image: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

Let’s start with a seemingly unconventional proposition: civil society and business share the same space, and therefore should share an interest in defending what unites them. How controversial is that proposition, really? This “shared space” is anchored in accountable governance. Civil society actors and companies both depend on the same legal and institutional frameworks that define the shared space to operate. Civil society cannot flourish, and business will struggle to thrive, without the rules and standards that hold public and private powers accountable.

Civic freedoms – freedoms of expression, association, information and assembly – allow citizens to expose abuses related to corruption, workplace safety, public health, toxic pollution and gender discrimination. These rights support stable, predictable legal and regulatory environments. At the same time, they enable the free flow of information, investment and entrepreneurial innovation. When these civic freedoms are undermined, business and civil society alike are subject to the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law. Companies should recognize the positive role that civil society organizations and human rights defenders play in protecting this space. Moreover, where reasonably possible, they have a responsibility to support these crucial actors when under pressure or threat.

From the murder of the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres and the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to politically motivated charges against Cambodian trade unionists, attacks on human rights defenders and civic freedoms around the world should and do concern the business community. These freedoms are being eroded as authoritarian governments act with impunity and democracies embrace illiberal populism and nationalism. Nearly six in 10 countries are seriously restricting people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, according to the global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Sometimes, companies are complicit in this repression. Since 2015, there have been close to 1,400 recorded attacks against citizens and organizations working on human rights issues related to business.

Image: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

Multinational corporations and their investors can no longer afford to be bystanders with so much at stake. All too often, companies take the rule of law, accountable governance and stable environments for granted. Recent research by the B Team, a leading non-profit initiative formed by a global group of business leaders, has found clear evidence that limits on important civic freedoms may produce negative economic outcomes. Countries with higher degrees of respect for civic rights experience higher economic growth rates and higher levels of human development. Issues and incidents in and out of the headlines are presenting inescapable challenges to business leaders. A growing number of corporate leaders are recognizing that they must defend the interests and values that they share with civil society around the world. Some are making public statements; others are registering their concerns privately. Increasing awareness of the “shared space” in which companies and civil society operate, and expectations of the responsibilities of businesses, are compelling shareholders and employees to take sides and pressure companies, however difficult the choices and trade-offs may be.

The rise of corporate activism

Five prominent examples from 2018 demonstrate this trend:

• Eight multinational corporations and investors issued a call to protect civic freedoms, human rights defenders and rule of law in a landmark joint statement developed through the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders. The statement is the first of its kind, with supporters ranging across the consumer goods, mining, apparel, banking, jewellery and footwear sectors, and stresses that when human rights defenders are under attack, so is sustainable and profitable business. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/13/first-time-major-companies-say-that-human-rights-defenders-are-essential-for-profitable-business/]

Adidas and Nike were among global apparel brands that urged the Cambodian government to drop politically motivated criminal charges against labour rights activist Tola Moeun and others – and have publicly supported freedom of association.

• In the US, companies have spoken out in unprecedented tone and numbers against the current administration’s immigration policies: Microsoft, Cisco, Airbnb, Apple, Salesforce, and the US Chamber of Commerce, among others, challenged the travel ban imposed on citizens from half a dozen Muslim-majority countries and opposed the separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border.

• In Germany, BMW and Daimler engaged with their employees to combat xenophobia and racism following far-right riots against immigrants; Siemens even urged employees to speak out and emphasized that tolerance and respect are important business values (as its CEO, Joe Kaeser, has made explicitly clear in public statements).

• A group of 14 human rights organizations and more than 1,400 Google employees called on Google to refrain from launching a censored search engine in China (known as “Project Dragonfly”), and partly as a result, the company has discontinued the project. These advocacy efforts illustrate that employees too are leading movements within companies, especially within the tech sector, to respect human rights. Companies will need to be mindful of rising employee expectations, or risk reputational damage and the loss of valuable talent, as younger workers seek to align their values with those of their employers.

Protesters remember Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous rights campaigner murdered in 2016.

Protesters remember Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous rights campaigner murdered in 2016. Image: Reuters/Jorge Cabrera

Inescapable challenges

“Corporate activism” – whether reluctant or deliberate – is not easy. New guidance published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and the International Service for Human Rights anticipates these inescapable challenges for companies and their leaders. The guidance, titled Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, provides an analytical and operational framework, with specific examples from different countries, sectors and initiatives, to inform companies as they decide whether and how to act. It highlights five specific decision factors that companies should consider:

1. Whether the company has a normative responsibility to act, based on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. All companies must ensure – through the application of the UN Guiding Principles – that their operations do not cause, contribute and are not linked to attacks on activists and civic freedoms. If they do, they must address the causes and consequences.

2. Whether the company has a discretionary opportunity to act. If so, whether there is a compelling business case to support civic freedoms and human rights defenders and/or a willingness to make a moral choice to do so. Besides defending the core elements of the shared space, the business case rests on managing operational and repetitional risks; building competitive advantage; and overcoming mistrust and securing the social licence to operate. Companies can also make a moral choice to act, both to do no harm anywhere and to do good where possible.

Image: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

3. How the company will act in a particular situation or on a certain issue.There is no one type of action that applies to all circumstances: a spectrum of actions (individual and collective, public and private) may be combined to address an issue or situation. In some situations, such as the increasing restrictions on Hungarian civil society, companies prefer to raise concerns individually and privately with the government. In others, such as Cambodia’s crackdown on striking workers, companies choose to make collective and public statements. Companies should be guided by pragmatic flexibility as they consider circumstances, relationships and opportunities to make a positive difference.

4. Who within the organization decides whether and how, a company will act. it is essential that these decisions are involving corporate headquarters and in-country executives and staff. It is important to integrate legal counsel, human rights and corporate responsibility experts, government, public affairs and (in certain circumstances) security and human resources staff into the deliberative process. Equally, local civil society and other stakeholders with which the company should maintain steady engagement should be consulted. CEO-level decisions are essential when a company’s core values, reputation, operations and relationships are at stake.

5. Whether the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of action. Responsible companies should evaluate both the risks of action and inaction. Companies may perceive that taking critical positions, especially in public, may put relationships with host country governments at stake. But often companies will conclude that the risks and potential costs of inaction are more difficult to anticipate, mitigate and manage over the long-term than the risks of action. It is unwise to be on the wrong side of history based on a shortsighted cost-benefit analysis.

These decision factors provide practical steps that companies can and should take to be allies of civil society and not just bystanders – or worse, casualties – in the global crackdown against the “shared space”. It is not the business of companies to pick fights, but fights are already coming to companies that could make or break them. Companies should engage carefully but deliberately – in their own interest – to support and defend this invaluable but fragile shared space.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/5-ways-businesses-can-back-up-human-rights-defenders/

 

New human rights ranking for businesses shows dismal progress for most firms

November 13, 2018

Human Rights Accountability of Non-State Actors – lecture in Leuven

February 14, 2018

The Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies is organising the SPRING LECTURE SERIES 2018 under the theme: UNDER SIEGE: HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW.

On Monday 26 February 2018 – from 11h00 – 13h00 – (Tiensestraat 41, LeuvenDr. Kasey McCall-Smith will speak about “Human Rights Accountability of Non-State Actors (MNEs, NGOs, …): the Next Frontier”.

[The negative impact on human rights by business activity has been the focus of much academic and public policy debate. In no other field of law has the stubbornness of the public and private international law divide been exposed more starkly and with such devastating effects for individuals. Human rights law discourse has spent the last two decades debating the impact of business activity on human rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was hailed as a great victory. But, as rightly noted by the Special Rapporteur on Business and Human Rights, the UN Framework and Guiding Principles was simply the end of the beginning of the debate. International law has yet to catch up with the realities of business activity and its impact on human rights and the environment. This lecture will look at the key soft law developments of the past decade, the push to ‘harden’ these soft law initiatives, and examine a case study on smartphone supply chain management to elaborate the difficulties of reconciling human rights accountability and abuse by non-state actors. The legal issues raised in respect to multinational enterprises will also be considered in light of increasing pressure to hold other non-state actors to account, such as international organisations and NGOs. Ultimately, the lecture will contribute ideas about how to move forward on the next human rights frontier.]

Dr. McCall-Smith is a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights. She is a US qualified lawyer and holds a BA in Architectural Studies (1998) and Juris Doctor (2001) from the University of Arkansas. Dr McCall-Smith was awarded an LLM (2002) and a PhD (2012) for her thesis on ‘Reservations to Human Rights Treaties’ by the University of Edinburgh. She is currently the Chair of AHRI, the Association of Human Rights Institutes. McCall-Smith’s research focuses primarily on treaty law and how treaties are interpreted and implemented at the domestic and supranational levels. Ensuring clarity in the law of treaties, specifically in reference to reservations to human rights treaties, is a major theme that she has pursued. She interested in the role of the UN human rights treaty bodies as generators of law. The increasingly blurred distinction between public and private international law in terms of human rights protection is another of her research interests.

Participation is free, but register by Friday 23 February at the latest

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/07/leuven-centre-for-global-governance-studies-organizes-new-mooc-on-human-rights-as-from-21-june/

https://mailchi.mp/kuleuven/event-414449?e=bf340a3bd5

Adidas and Human Rights Defenders: no longer run-of-the-mill?

December 8, 2016

In 2012 – in the run up to the London Olympics – the Playfair 2012 Campaign (supported by War on Want and others) highlighted the appalling experiences of workers making Adidas official Olympic and Team GB goods in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. “Around the world 775,000 workers, mainly women, in 1,200 factories across 65 countries make Adidas products. Almost all of the jobs are outsourced to factories in poorer countries, yet through Adidas’ buying practices the company has enormous influence over their working conditions, and ultimately their lives. In the run up the London 2012 Olympics research has exposed the harsh reality of life for these workers.” The campaign demanded Adidas to end worker exploitation. playfair2012.org

In a report of 11 March 2015 on Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry Human Rights Watch noted that brands can do more and said “For example, Adidas wrote to Human Rights Watch that it first started privately disclosing its supplier list to academics and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 2001 and moved to a public disclosure system in 2007.”

In an article in Open Democracy of 17 June 2015  Mauricio Lazala and Joe Bardwell under the title: “What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t.state that:More recently, civil society has called on FIFA sponsors to respond to human rights concerns at construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. So far, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa have issued statements supporting workers’ rights in the country

In an article published on 16 November 2015, ISHR Director Phil Lynch explored the role, responsibility and interest of business when it comes to supporting human rights defenders and protecting civil society space. He mentions Adidas in the following context: The fourth and final category of actions, perhaps the most important but also the least common, involves business actively advocating and seeking remedy for human rights defenders and against laws and policies which restrict them. Such action could be private, as I understand to be the predominant approach of Adidas. It could also be public, such as the open letters and press statements issued by Tiffany & Co and others for the release of Angolan defender and journalist Rafael Marques

On 31 December 2015, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre listed in its “KnowTheChain” (a ranking of 20 apparel and footwear companies on efforts to address forced labour in the supply chain) Germany-based Adidas as number one out of 20.

On 21 June 2016 Adidas published its policy on HRDs: “The Adidas Group and Human Rights Defenders“. As there is such a dearth of corporate policies specifically on human rights defenders, here follows the key part in quote:

The threats faced by human rights defenders come in many forms – physical, psychological, economic, and social – and involve the interaction of many factors (poor governance, the absence of the rule of law, intolerance, tensions over development issues, etc.) and can be triggered by different actors, both private and State.

In his report to the General Assembly in 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders recommended that both States and businesses should play an active role in supporting and promoting the role of HRDs working in their sectors. This should include, for example, speaking out when human right defenders are targeted for their corporate accountability work. Businesses must also cease and abstain from supporting any actions, directly or indirectly, which impinge upon defenders’ rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The adidas Group has a longstanding policy of non-interference with the activities of human rights defenders, including those who actively campaign on issues that may be linked to our business operations. We expect our business partners to follow the same policy; they should not inhibit the lawful actions of a human rights defender or restrict their freedom of expression, freedom of association, or right to peaceful assembly.

We value the input and views of all stakeholders and we are willing, and open, to engage on any issue, be this related to our own operations or our supply chain. Often, our engagement with human rights defenders is constructive, especially where we identify areas of shared concern. For example, with respect to transparency and fair play in sports, or environmental sustainability, or the protection of worker rights in our global supply chain. In these instances, we may actively support the work of the HRD and derive shared value from our joint endeavours in, say, improving working conditions, safety, or the environment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ivette Gonzalez: profile of a Human Rights Defender from Mexico

July 11, 2016

Ivette Gonzalez: Human Rights Defender from Mexico

In the ISHR Monitor of 1 July 2016 there is an interview with Ivette Gonzalez who works as a strategic engagement associate for Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER) in Mexico. Ivette was in Geneva to participate in ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme.

—–

In Mexico, Ivette’s work at PODER is framed around the business and human rights agenda. PODER works to strengthen civil society to achieve corporate transparency and accountability with a human rights perspective. Ivette spoke to ISHR about her motivation to become involved in human rights work, in particular advocating for business and human rights:

‘Injustice and inequality as well as understanding the imbalance of wealth distribution and power triggered my motivation.’

Regarding the risks she and her organisation face on a daily basis, Ivette acknowledged that a focus on safety concerns is necessary in Mexico. PODER has implemented a very strict security protocol in the office to ensure they can work in safe conditions. All members, both those in the field and in the office, are required to follow the protocol.

‘By working in business and human rights, we are aware that powerful actors can consider our work as a threat.’

In the last few years, Ivette feels that human rights defenders and journalists are more at risk in Mexico. Discrediting campaigns point the finger at NGOs and defenders, questioning the legitimacy of their work and even accusing them of taking advantage of victims of human rights violations.

Implementation of laws for the protection of defenders

When talking about particular changes to legislation Ivette would like to see in Mexico, she mentions that the creation of laws is not the issue, but their implementation is. In Mexico, a law and protection mechanism for human rights defenders exists, but the mechanism needs to be improved with the inputs of the users of it and the people at risk. For that to happen, it is crucial that civil society are involved in the process and monitoring.

‘Even though Mexico already has the legislative tools in hand, using these tools, making them concrete and practical for defenders and activists on the ground is the missing step.’

Information is power

Regarding her goals at the international level, Ivette admits that the human rights agenda needs to have an impact at the international level, because some actors are large transnational corporations based in many different countries, and there is a lack of access to justice for the victims of corporate activities in the host and home countries.

Ivette interacts with UN mechanisms including the Special Procedures. PODER has interacted with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. In speaking of interacting with the Special Procedures, Ivette acknowledges civil society’s critical role in providing information to Special Procedures.

‘My recommendation for the international community would be to work together and form coalitions. Building new structures and making steps towards change, can be best achieved by working together.’

Learning and advocating in Geneva

Regarding her participation in HRDAP, Ivette is grateful to have been able to receive such a significant amount of information on how to effectively engage with the UN system, as well as how to efficiently use it in her existing work. She looks forward to sharing her knowledge with other civil society organisations and assisting affected communities to engage with the UN. She appreciated the opportunity to lobby various actors, as well as learn how to approach missions and engage with the system – including Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies.

‘During HRDAP, I met very brave defenders with whom I developed professional relationships. Sharing experience and expertise can strengthen our work in the pursue for the respect of human rights.’

Source: Ivette Gonzalez: Human Rights Defender from Mexico | ISHR

Consilium EU adopts conclusions on business and human rights

June 21, 2016

On 20 June 2016, the EU Council adopted its conclusions on business and human rights [its 3477th meeting – COHOM 78]. The full document is available through the link below. The main paragraph mentioning human rights defenders is no 19: “The Council recognises the importance of building capacity both within EU Delegations and Member States’ embassies to work effectively on business and human rights issues, including supporting human rights defenders working on corporate accountability and providing guidance to companies on the Guiding Principles. The Council invites the High Representative and the Commission to develop the necessary tools for EU Delegations to help meet these needs, including through building on the support and best practices of Member States.”

Source: Council conclusions on business and human rights – Consilium

Angela Mudukuti, human rights defender from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

December 28, 2015

Though positive engagement with businesses should be considered a preferred option when it comes to promoting corporate respect for human rights, sometimes the open legal confrontation of human rights violators is the only way to make progress. This is when human rights defenders such as Angela Mudukuti, a lawyer running the International Criminal Justice Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), are critically needed.  The International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) published an interview with her on 27 November 2015.ISHR-logo-colour-high

She defends a holistic approach to justice, where corporate accountability should be sought whenever businesses are involved in violations, regardless of the sectors or human rights affected.  And in cases of complicity in war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity, she says “corporate accountability is important to all the victims”.

Given the weighty consequences they face if their responsibility for such gross violations is revealed, Angela’s experience is that corporate entities are mostly reluctant to facilitate engagement with human rights defenders, making litigation procedures the only way to ensure transparent investigation and accountability. Yet, suing companies and especially major corporations for complicity in gross human rights violations can prove to be dangerous, even for the best-trained defenders. “We work regionally and so we often face regional and local threats. For example: infiltration into your information databases; other security threats which can be physical in nature… corporate entities … have the ‘muscle’ to intimidate you and they will seize any opportunity to do so…

Angela and other members of the SALC team have also experienced personal threats, but she remains positive, seeing these challenges as an “indication that you are doing the right thing” and a part of the burden carried by most human rights defenders in the world. She also highlights that threats do not come only from corporate or government entities, but also from “individuals who disagree” with the work she is doing.

Other practical obstacles can impede SALC’s human rights work such as a lack of access to information to build proper advocacy, and resistance from legal administrative bodies. Yet, this does not prevent SALC from extending their litigation work into advocacy, which is jointly conducted with local organisations throughout Southern Africa: “The first thing is to decide if litigation is viable or if the same results can be achieved by other means. Secondly, should we decide to litigate we need to determine how we can structure the advocacy around it because raising awareness is very important.”

 

Many corporate entities involved in gross human rights violations have transnational activities for which the “ramifications transcend boarders”. This makes the work of corporate responsibility defenders even more challenging, and is one of the reasons why SALC has a regional focus. Angela says the regional nature of violations also demands that the international community “be united and prioritise business and human rights (…) in Southern Africa and in other parts of the developing world”.

The SALC is also looking to address  the devastating environmental implications of various corporate projects.

Follow Angela on Twitter at @AngelaMudukuti.

Defender profile: Angela Mudukuti from Southern Africa Litigation Centre | ISHR

Environmental Human Rights Defender Muhammad Dairyman Indonesia

November 23, 2015

In the series Human Rights Defender Profiles [ISHR] this time: Muhammad Darisman, from West Java, Indonesia:

In the context of breakneck pace of economic development Muhammad Dairyman stands out. He currently partners with U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium to monitor and improve working conditions in garment factories, but he is also the founder, since 2009, of a local NGO that raises awareness of occupational disease and victim’s rights. He has led campaigns to highlight the ongoing (and legal) use of asbestos in Indonesia and across the Asian region, and to raise awareness about the negative health impacts on workers and communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Contrasting views of human rights in business: World Bank and IT companies

November 19, 2015

Here two contrasting statements on the theme of business and human rights. One describes the hesitation of the World Bank to apply human rights criteria and even use the word human rights (posted in the Huffington post of 18 November 2015 by Nezir Sinani [www.twitter.com/NezirSinani] and Julia Radomski, and the other is a piece written by Owen Larter and Nicolas Patrick entitled “Microsoft & DLA Piper – Why Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders are Right for our Business” [published in the ISHR Monitor on 27 October 2015]. Read the rest of this entry »