Posts Tagged ‘corporate accountability’

EU law on corporate due diligence and SLAPPs: crucial and urgent matters

November 19, 2020

European Parliament is deciding its position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence should look like. Richard Gardiner (a Senior Campaigner for Corporate Accountability at Global Witness) on 2 September  2020 explains more and more recently (11 November 2020) a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups call on the EU to to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs)

As the European Parliament begins developing proposals for a new – and momentous – law to hold business to account for its impact on people and planet, Richard Gardiner sets out how this process came about and what needs to happen now to ensure this really delivers results.

Where are we now?

Following the publication of the European Commission study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence in early 2021.

In response to this announcement, Members of the European Parliament are now starting work to develop a European Parliament position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence could look like. This work will take place within the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee and will be led by MEP Lara Wolters.

The goal of this work is to influence the final Commission legislative proposal and ensure that the Commissioner follows through on his commitment to present an ambitious framework for this law.

Potential to be a real game changer?

Global Witness has long advocated for mandatory corporate accountability rules to tackle corporate abuse against people and planet.

Our recently published report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ shows that while land and environmental defenders continue to act as the first line of defence against climate breakdown, far too many businesses, financiers and governments either fail to protect them or – in the worst examples – can be complicit in the violence they face.

These brave people play a vital role challenging companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through virgin forests, protected wetlands, indigenous territories and biodiversity hotspots. They are on the frontline of our global, collective fight against climate change. However, despite their importance to the preservation of our planet, our report shows that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2019 – the bloodiest on record, with the deadliest sectors for this violence being mining, agribusiness and logging.

Our findings show that an average of four land and environmental defenders are killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. These are reinforced by our previous investigations on continued deforestation, minerals that fuel and fund conflict, and grand-scale corruption.

There is clearly a legislative gap when governments and citizens have no legal means to hold corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses. As the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU is now looking to lead the global debate on corporate accountability and this new law will shape not only corporate behaviour within the EU but also globally.

What needs to be in this new law?

Civil society united in their calls for the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. We have consistently pointed to the fact that voluntary measures have proved to be vastly insufficient and new legislation is urgently needed to establish clear, robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, to respect human rights and the environment.

As the European Parliament begins to discuss the details of corporate accountability legislation, Global Witness is part of a coalition of NGOs that has published its call to action for the key elements needed to hold businesses to account:

  • The new law must apply to all businesses, including finance, of all sizes and sectors acting in the EU.
  • Business must have a duty to address all the adverse human rights, environmental and governance impacts in their global supply chains.
  • Businesses must conduct Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) Due Diligence to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, monitor and account for their adverse risks.
  • Businesses must engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as part of their RBC due diligence.
  • Businesses must be made liable for the human rights, environmental and governance adverse impacts in their global value chains.

You can read the full paper here.

So what happens next?

The months between now and the end of the year promise to be extremely interesting on the topic of corporate accountability across all the EU institutions. Firstly, the European Parliament will aim to finalise its advice to the Commission by end 2020 in order to ensure that it can be taken into account in the Commission proposal. Secondly, the Commission has draft plans to release a public consultation on the new due diligence legislation in Autumn 2020 to get public input on how to draft their proposal.

And finally, the German Presidency of the European Council have indicated that due diligence is a key political priority for their Presidency and they will aim to have Council conclusions on this topic by the end of the year. At Global Witness, we will continue to engage with all the European institutions to ensure that EU policy makers live up to their commitments to introduce a meaningful and impactful new law.

SLAPPs: More and more journalists and civil society organisations are being sued by powerful businessmen and politicians. The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups calling on the EU to ensure those with a watchdog role are protected from gag lawsuits.

‘SLAPP’ stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. Expensive and unscrupulous law firms market this attack-dog service to powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years just to shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/]

This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The European Court of Human Rights and other national and regional courts have consistently and explicitly recognised in their judgments the important role a free press, and more broadly civil society, plays in holding the powerful to account. Their judgments reaffirm the obligation states have to create an environment that is conducive to free speech. Because without this, democracy weakens and dies.

The holes in our laws that allow powerful people to hammer their critics into submission are a hole in European democracy. Cases of abuse pepper the continent. Poland’s second-biggest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has received over 55 legal threats and lawsuits by a number of actors, including from Poland’s ruling party, since 2015.

French businessman Vincent Bolloré and companies affiliated with the Bollore Group have blanketed journalists and NGOs in libel suits to stop them covering his business interests in Africa. In Spain, meat producer Coren is demanding €1 million in damages from an environmental activist for criticising its waste management practices, having previously threatened activists and scientists who were researching nitrate levels in its local waters.

The people we depend on for information about what is happening around us are being distracted, impeded, or entirely blocked from pursuing their work by these costly and resource-intensive legal attacks. The situation is becoming skewed beyond recognition. When it comes to certain people, governments, companies and topics, it’s not writers, film makers or journalists who decide what we read, watch and talk about.

It’s not even the courts, for SLAPPs rarely make it to a hearing, let alone a court judgment. Rather, it’s the oligarchs and their associates in politics, through the lawyers they pay, who are shaping the narrative and preventing the truth from emerging.

We’ve seen a worrying pattern emerge in Europe of government officials or beneficiaries of large public contracts adopting the tactics of celebrities and oligarchs to shield themselves from the heightened level of scrutiny that their positions or financial links to government warrant. The fact that the threats are often cross-border ratchets up the costs for journalists and activists, who find themselves summoned to court far from home in Europe’s most expensive legal jurisdictions.

Awareness of this problem is growing. European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has promised to ‘look into all possible options’ to counter the threat SLAPPs pose to European democracy. One promising solution lies in the institutions of the European Union, and it could help realter the balance between pursuers of SLAPPs and the public’s right to be informed of matters in the public interest.

EU-wide legislation should be adopted to protect people across the European Union from SLAPPs. This has to be a priority. As in other parts of the world, rules should be in place across the EU to allow SLAPP suits to be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, to sanction SLAPP litigants for abusing the law and the courts, and to provide measures to allow victims to defend themselves.

When we consider the importance of public watchdogs such as investigative journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the absence of safeguards is a threat not only to press freedom but to the proper functioning of Europe’s internal market and, increasingly, to Europe’s democratic life.

The reality is that for every journalist or activist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters sent by law firms, perverting laws meant to protect the reputations of the innocent from attacks by the powerful.

SLAPPs are a far less barbaric means of silencing someone than a car bomb or a bullet to the head, but their silencing effect is often just as destructive.

Signatories

COVID and Human Rights: Shifting Priorities also for Companies

April 29, 2020

Foley Hoag LLP - Corporate Social Responsibility

Isa Mirza for Foley Hoag LLP wrote an interesting overview piece with focus on how Corporate Social Responsibility fits in:

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most significant global public health crises since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20. The spread of the Coronavirus through every continent and major metropolis has led to unprecedented policy responses from governments both large and small. As a result, the human rights community is more closely scrutinizing the impact of these responses, while many company operations are more likely to overlap with the pandemic and evolving government policy in some way. The corollary of this dynamic could be considerable, not just in the near term, but for how rights are to be protected and respected in the future.

Governments Around the World Threaten Rights under Cover of COVID-19

………

Corporate Responses to COVID-19

Companies have also made changes to their operations and policies in response to the pandemic. Many businesses have waived fees and made it easier to obtain a refund, instituted emergency relief and exemptions for borrowers, revised their rules to make them more transparent and flexible, made multi-million dollar donations to support public health efforts, and redirected or repurposed some of their products to help boost the supply of medical equipment.

NGOs and watchdog groups, however, are increasingly concerned about possible situations where companies could be knowingly or inadvertently violating rights as they attempt to sharply attune their operations to COVID-19 and attendant government policies.

Some companies that provide teleconferencing services – a lifeline for families and business during the crisis – have been accused of instituting weak privacy protections and misleading users regarding the quality of their encryption technologies. Concern has also been raised that some social media platforms have been slow in removing hate speech and discriminatory content against groups stereotyped as vectors of the Coronavirus. Under certain conditions, the latter could lead to physical violence against members of populations most vulnerable during the crisis, such as ethnic and religious minorities, healthcare workers in close contact with COVID-19 patients, and individuals under quarantine order.

Corporate Responsibility and How Companies Can Respect Rights During COVID-19

Although companies cannot directly change government policies or be expected to contravene national laws, the current crisis does compel businesses to consider if their operations may be contributing to harmful impacts caused by states and how then they could be meaningfully addressed.

There are well-established international instruments, principles, and best practices that companies can follow when considering how best to respect human rights in the context of COVID-19.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”) set global human rights expectations for companies in the 21st Century. The UNGPs are designed to encompass the full ecosystem in which business enterprises conduct commercial transactions and maintain supply chains. The UNGPs are premised upon three pillars. The first pillar is that governments have a duty to protect human rights. The second pillar is that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. The third pillar is that both governments and companies must provide a remedy when human rights are violated.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is primarily a responsibility to do no harm. This responsibility can be met in two ways. First, a company should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through its own commercial activities, and should address such impacts when they occur. Second, a company should seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts to which it is directly linked. A business is deemed to be directly linked to a human rights impact when it has ties through its value chain to an entity that has caused an adverse human rights impact.

Companies can largely meet their responsibility to do no harm by reviewing their operations and supply chains to identify human rights risks; conducting human rights due diligence to prevent adverse human rights impacts arising from commercial activities; and mitigating, remedying, or otherwise addressing adverse human rights impacts that nonetheless occur.

Social media platforms, internet providers, teleconference service companies, and other ICT-based enterprises should also consider the standards set forth in the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy of the Global Network Initiative (“GNI Principles”). Premised on international human rights norms, the GNI Principles provide member companies with non-binding standards and guidance for implementing them. Importantly, the GNI Principles state that member companies bear an express responsibility to respect and promote the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users. In addition, GNI member companies should be able to demonstrate their efforts in this regard. ICT companies that are not GNI members would be best served by seeking to emulate these standards.

Companies can further fulfill their human rights responsibilities by publicly disclosing the steps they are taking to address challenges identified in their due diligence.

In addition to being integral aspects of the UNGPs, due diligence and public disclosure are salient precepts in other human rights standards. For example, The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights – the only set of standards providing detailed guidance to natural resource companies regarding how to respect human rights in the provision of security at their operations – call on extractives companies to carry out regular due diligence on the potential human rights risks associated with the protection of natural resource assets. In addition, companies that implement the Voluntary Principles are encouraged, where possible, to publically disclose their efforts to address human rights issues that have been found through the due diligence process. Many governments are now also expecting companies to conduct some form of due diligence and commit to public transparency in order to enter into government contracts and partnerships.

In countries and regions where pandemic prevention policies have contributed to credible reports of human rights abuses, companies should be circumspect to ensure their local operations and supply chains are not contributing to those harms. When operational risks related to COVID-19 are determined to be likely, a company should be prepared to conduct targeted due diligence and a review of relevant policies. This could be complemented by public reporting on specific actions the company has taken to acknowledge and remediate COVID-related human rights challenges.

In addition, companies should consider taking the further step of discussing their due diligence efforts and findings with governments, human rights organizations, representatives of workers and vulnerable groups, and – where beneficial to public health planning – with the medical community.

The Coronavirus pandemic has stretched the resources of every institution across the globe. Governments bear primary responsibility for protecting human rights during the crisis, but their responses have also led to abuses. Although it may seem daunting for companies to factor their potential role in such abuses into their existing operations and policies, doing so will place them at the cutting-edge of best practice. It will also strengthen their capacity to adapt and respect rights in the face of future global crises.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/09/policy-response-from-human-rights-ngos-to-covid-19-the-business-and-human-rights-resource-centre/

https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/covid-19-and-global-human-rights-93783/

Honduran defender Iris Argentina Álvarez killed by private security guards

April 22, 2020

With all eyes on the pandemic it is easy to forget that “violence as usual” continues against human rights defenders. Here one case:

Human Rights Defender, Iris Argentina Álvarez, was killed on 2 April 2020, by private security agents from the company CRAE´S, employed by the La Grecia Sugar Mill. Her murder took place during a violent, illegal eviction in the Los Chanchos section of Marcovia, Choluteca in the South of HondurasCommunity witnesses report that National Police officers were in the area when the aggressors opened fire against several families with many children. They affirm that the police did absolutely nothing to stop the violence that ended the life of the defender and left two other people wounded, including an underage child.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre attempted to contact La Grecia sugar mill but was not succesful and CRAE´S private security company did not respond.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/25/four-honduran-woman-human-rights-defenders-say-why-funders-need-to-prioritize-social-movmements/

#WHRDAlert HONDURAS / Defender killed by security agents in violent, illegal eviction

 

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/honduras-defender-iris-argentina-álvarez-killed-by-private-security-guards-from-the-company-crae´s-employed-by-the-la-grecia-sugar-mill-the-companies-did-not-respond?mc_cid=4f7a17b150&mc_eid=81043e761b

Jackie Smith sees a world that prioritizes people over economic growth

March 3, 2020

Jackie Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and the editor of the Journal of World Systems Research, published a piece called “Human rights, not corporate rights” in Open Democracy of 26 February 2020. It is an excerpt of an essay published as part of a series by the Great Transition Initiative. To view the full series, click here. Jackie Smith argues that human rights offer a powerful framework for challenging corporate hegemony and creating a more just and sustainable world.

The growth and concentration of corporate power is one that deserves far more attention and critical analysis than it has received in academic and policy circles.

Capitalist globalization policies over recent decades have helped corporations grow and consolidate wealth on a global scale, which they have used to further concentrate market and political influence. The number of transnational corporations in the top 100 economic entities – including both corporations and governments – jumped to 69 in 2015 from around 50 at the turn of the twenty-first century. National governments are no longer the most powerful entities, and their position is continuing to slide as corporations grow. Alarmingly, among the leading industries are those most in need of governance for the sake of the common good: namely, those dependent on the perpetuation of our carbon-intensive economy, financial speculation, wasteful consumption, and the commodification of health care.

While corporate power has grown, the power of workers and communities has been steadily eroded by neoliberal globalization. The decline of trade unions and the growth of precarious work, fueled by the evangelization of neoliberal principles by economists and political leaders in governments and global institutions like the World Bank, have reduced the ability of people and communities to come together to advance a different vision of how the world could be organized. Cities have been hamstrung by budget constraints as they contend with effects of neoliberal globalization such as rising housing costs, effects of climate change, and social polarization. At the same time, critics of corporate globalization in the academy have been neutralized by the corporatization of universities and the polarization and commodification of political and media discourses. Indeed, we might say that today, global hegemony is exercised not by a national state or collection of states, but by the owners and managers of global corporations.

It is imperative, then, that scholars and activists do far more to focus on this critical issue and help find ways to challenge more directly the role of corporations in society today. Corporate concentration and market monopolization – enabled by US international economic policies, weak antitrust laws and implementation, corporate taxation, campaign financing, and other – undermine human rights in cities and communities worldwide.

By supporting human rights globalization as a counter-movement to corporate globalization, we can advance people-centered policies and build upon earlier work of transformative movements worldwide.

The United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process gives local human rights defenders one way of fighting back. US human rights defenders have recently challenged predatory corporate practices in a report to the United Nations. The report highlighted the impacts of corporations on local human rights, democratic political participation, housing, health, and racial and gender equity. It documented at great length the extent to which corporate practices violate government commitments in both national and international legal instruments.

While the UN process is limited in its ability to change behaviors of recalcitrant governments, what is powerful about international human rights treaties and institutional processes like the UPR is their ability to help social movements come together across various divides and promote a shared vision of the world we wish to see. Paraphrasing Frederick Douglass, human rights activists like to remind skeptics that those in power have never ceded power without popular pressure: “Human rights don’t trickle down, they rise up!”

The process of compiling UPR reports and then working to follow up with them helps groups and activists articulate shared priorities and visions of justice that account for global and historical omissions in local and national discourses. The UPR does not simply track violations but centers concrete remedies in the formal reports it makes to national governments. It is here that local activists have found opportunities to forge alliances with local government officials, who see value in using the international stage to amplify their pleas for federal funding to support social welfare needs. Thus, the UPR process helps build new community collaborations and foster public discourse and consciousness-raising around human rights as an alternative framework.

Corporate hegemony has constrained the political discourse and the political imagination we need to envision and fight for a world that prioritizes people and communities over economic growth and endless consumption. Although the odds seem daunting, global ideals and institutions that have been slowly and steadily advanced by human rights advocates over centuries may provide tools for advancing new projects and strategies that can realize human-centered policies and a more just and sustainable world.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/human-rights-not-corporate-rights/

Magnitsky law spawns cottage industry of sanctions lobbying

February 13, 2020

Congress passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to punish Russian officials accused of beating to death a whistleblower who publicized government corruption. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/29/european-court-rules-on-sergei-magnitskys-death/]

A decade later, the law has unwittingly spawned a multimillion-dollar lobbying cottage industry. Predictably, a number of lobbyists are gunning to remove Magnitsky penalties on their questionable clients, just as with other such sanctions laws. President Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, for example, is defending an Israeli billionaire accused of pillaging Africa, while Trump’s 2016 Tennessee state director, Darren Morris, has joined with New York law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in representing an Iraqi businessman sanctioned for allegedly bribing politicians.

But a unique facet of the Magnitsky law and subsequent amendments has created a whole new opening for more creative lobbying. Unlike similar laws blocking sanctioned parties’ US assets and banning travel to the United States, Magnitsky requires that US officials consider information from credible human rights organizations when weighing whether to apply sanctions. “That’s a pretty revolutionary provision,” said Rob Berschinski, the senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First. “Effectively, the US government has created an open inbox in which literally anyone can petition for sanctions — no matter what their motive is, no matter what the credibility of their information is.

Berschinski’s organization is among those taking advantage of the provision, lobbying for additional Magnitsky sanctions on Saudi officials responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Trump administration designated 17 Saudi officials in November 2018, but not Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed by the CIA and UN investigators to have ordered the crime.

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (click above to read the law)

“The point here is, yes, 17 people were designated under Global Magnitsky,” said Berschinski, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor under President Barack Obama. “No, they are not the people who were ultimately responsible for directing the crime, and the people who were ultimately responsible need to be held accountable.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the only Gulf target of sanctions lobbying. In recent months, lawyers for Kuwaiti private equity firm KGL Investment and its former CEO, Marsha Lazareva, have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to threaten Kuwait with Magnitsky sanctions if it does not drop embezzlement charges against her. Working on the account are big names, including President George H.W. Bush’s son, Neil Bush; former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; and ex-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, until she joined Trump’s impeachment team. But the Lazareva camp has also consistently sought to portray her defenders as “human rights activists,” notably working with Washington nonprofit In Defense of Christians and former human rights lawyer Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in its efforts.

Recent Magnitsky Act lobbying
Lobbying to remove sanctions Lobbying to add sanctions
Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan for Israeli businessman Dan Gertler Crowell & Moring and others on behalf of KGL Investment (sanctions on Kuwait)
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman / Morris Global Strategies for Iraqi businessman Khamis Khanjar Human Rights First (sanctions for killers of Jamal Khashoggi)
Venable / Sonoran Policy Group for Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic (Sonoran terminated December 2018) Schmitz Global Partners / Jefferson Waterman International (JWI) on behalf of fugitive Bulgarian businessman Tzvetan Vassilev (JWI terminated August 2019)
Source: Department of Justice / Congress

Lazareva’s champions insist she was railroaded by a corrupt judicial system and that lobbying for human rights sanctions — even if it’s spearheaded by corporate interests with deep pockets — is perfectly legitimate. To date, at least five US lawmakers have also joined the call for an investigation into Kuwait under the Magnitsky law.

“The global Magnitsky sanctions are a critical tool available to human rights NGOs to hold foreign governments accountable in cases of corruption and injustice,” said Peter Burns, government relations director for In Defense of Christians, or IDC. “IDC has advocated for their implementation in a variety of human rights and religious freedom contexts. One such case is that of Orthodox Christian businesswoman Marsha Lazareva, who is imprisoned in Kuwait on bogus corruption charges. The United States must become more effective at holding our friends, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait, accountable for religious freedom violations.”

“Are there actors out there that I’m aware of that may not have kind of the purest motives in bringing case files? Sure. But I have confidence in the integrity of the underlying decision-making system within the US government.”

IDC said it’s not getting paid for its Lazareva advocacy. But the army of lobbyists urging sanctions on Kuwaiti officials has, however, raised concerns about the integrity of the Magnitsky process.

“Are there actors out there that I’m aware of that may not have kind of the purest motives in bringing case files? Sure,” Berschinski told Al-Monitor. “But I have confidence in the integrity of the underlying decision-making system within the US government.”

This isn’t the first time lobbyists have sought to use Magnitsky in such a fashion. Back in 2017, lobbyists for fugitive Bulgarian businessman Tzvetan Vassilev sought sanctions on Bulgaria after being charged with money laundering and embezzlement. At the time, Lloyd Green, a Justice Department official under President George H. W. Bush, warned against potential abuses of the law. The Magnitsky Act … was not designed to become a sword and shield for those alleged to have committed crimes in systems that afford due process,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Hill at the time. It “should not be allowed to become a cudgel wielded by non-citizens as they seek to beat our allies into submission.

Berschinski said Human Rights First was aware of both the Vassilev and Lazareva campaigns and had declined to get involved. He declined to speculate, however, on whether such lobbying campaigns undermine the voices of traditional human rights organizations. “My sense is that at the end of the day, the US government officials who are actually making the call are making the decision on whether to designate or not on the basis of a solid evidentiary basis,” he said.

Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/01/magnitsky-sanctioned-lobbying-hire-cottage-industry.html#ixzz6Cc6LK5Tp

Compilation of recommendations to companies and investors on HRDs and civic freedoms

February 1, 2020

Several national and international non-governmental organizations, think-tanks, coalitions and UN bodies and experts have made recommendations to businesses and investors about how to ensure respect for human rights defenders and civic freedoms. This non-exhaustive list brings together these recommendations.

Recommendations for companies and investors:

Name / Title:

Description:

Business sector:

Authors – type of organization(s): 

Date and Year:

Zero Tolerance InitiativeThe Geneva Declaration Declaration made by defenders of human rights and environment and supporting NGOs, with recommendations for states, companies and investors  All sectors Affected communities’ representatives, national and international NGOs November 2019
Action plan from the World HRDs Summit  Action plan made by defenders of human rights and environment and supporting NGOs, with recommendations for states, companies and investors  All sectors Affected communities’ representatives, national and international NGOs December 2018
Situation of human rights defenders – A/72/170 UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs’ report on HRDs working on business and human rights, with recommendations to states, companies and investors All sectors UN Expert July 2017

Recommendations for companies:

Human rights defenders and civic space – the business and human rights dimension Working Group on Business and Human Rights, as part of its mandate to promote the UN Guiding Principles, decided to give focused attention to the issue of HRDs and civic space – this is the summary of UNWG’s efforts on this issue to date and includes draft guidance for companies  All sectors  UN Working Group Ongoing
Shared Space under pressure: Business Support for Civic freedoms and HRDs Guidance document on business support for civic freedoms and HRDs All sectors International NGOs (informed by interviews with business representatives, HRDs, national and international NGOs) August 2018
Thematic overview: Civil society and the private sector CIVICUS’ 2017 State of Civil Society Report addressed the theme of civil society and the private sector, gathering a range of informed views from 27 different stakeholders that wrote about different aspects and produced a set of recommendations for the private sector  All sectors  National and international NGOs January 2017
Cross-regional group of human rights defenders called on business to take action for their engagement and protection Joint statement from 40+ civil society organizations, with guidance for businesses All sectors National and international NGOs 2016
Human Rights Defenders and Business: Searching for Common Ground Report with case studies, analysis and recommendations for businesses  All sectors International NGOs (informed by HRDs and national NGOs) December 2015

Recommendations for investors and financial institutions:

 Uncalculated Risks: Threats and attacks against human rights defenders and the role of development finance Report with 25 case studies and recommendations for international financial institutions  Finance & banking International and national NGOs June 2019
Guide for independent accountability mechanisms on measures to address the risk of reprisals in complaint management Toolkit that aims to assist independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) to address the risk of reprisals within the context of their complaint management process  Finance & banking Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (IDBG) January 2019

This list will continue to be updated – please notify the NGO at zbona(at)business-humanrights.org, if there is a set of recommendations missing from it.

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/compilation-of-recommendations-to-companies-and-investors-on-hrds-civic-freedoms

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