Posts Tagged ‘Open Democracy’

2017 (9): Business can be better allies of human rights defenders

March 9, 2017

 Just discovered that the penultimate post in my series “2017” was never published. So here comes – with delay- the missing piece “2017 (9)“:

With the USA government abandoning any leadership on human rights issues, perhaps we should turn more to the business world. So writes Sarah Brooks who works for the Geneva-based NGO, the International Service for Human Rights, in Open Democracy on 1 February 2017 (“Business can and should ally with those defending human rights”)

Business should heed the views of human rights defenders, and do more to protect their crucial work—which advances the rule of law that benefits business too. Global businesses and grassroots human rights activists may seem like strange bedfellows.  But as attacks on basic democratic freedoms and the rule of law intensify around the world, they may have more shared values and interests than one might think. We know businesses are driven by the bottom line. If they didn’t seek to increase profits, they simply wouldn’t exist. But we also know—and many business leaders are coming around to the idea—that long-term success relies on more than just profit generation and is linked to a range of external factors such as transparency, certainty, stability. And a social license to operate. Failures to understand that social license, and in particular to prevent and respond to the human rights impacts of their work, have thrust many global businesses into an unwanted spotlight. They didn’t need to find themselves there.

Because human rights defenders use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. Reputational damage and operational risks for a company are expensive. Because human rights defenders—such as lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders, or NGO workers—use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. However, business should see human rights defenders as priceless allies. They are the canaries in the coal mines, pointing to when governance failures become real financial, legal, and reputational risks to business. They are also the witnesses to corporate abuse of communities and the environment. Because of this, the work of defenders often makes those in power uncomfortable—both states and non-state actors. They are targeted with laws and policies to stifle their activities, and face intimidation and threats to their work and their lives. Yet without the work of defenders, whole societies and economies lose out. And that means businesses lose out, too.

[the author refers as examples to the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and Berta Caceres in Honduras which both let business to reassess their work] 

These cases show business can make a difference. It has a unique ability to create, maintain, and defend space for civil society through three tools: leverage, leadership, and partnerships. How do these work? Take as an example a government drafting a law that aims to close down space for NGOs to operate. In addition to running counter to international law, this would also close off channels for businesses to benefit from NGOs’ work—whether implementing community projects or helping train workers. So how might businesses respond? They can use the leverage provided by access, personal relationships and market share to push back on authoritarian impulses. To take just one example, when 30 global brands and global trade unions joined together to speak out against violent dispersal of protests and detention of activists in Cambodia in 2014, not only were the activists released, but the underlying issues of minimum wage took center stage in brand discussions with the government.

Businesses, and especially progressive businesses, also need to show leadership. In 2015, Adidas released a policy statement on human rights defenders that clearly led the pack, creating a company-wide commitment to speak out in defense of fundamental freedoms in the countries where they source. It takes a lot for a business to get in front, especially when they know that NGOs will be watching carefully to see those policies implemented. But setting the bar high has consumer appeal and can drive a race to the top. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/business-and-human-rights/]

Finally, businesses have resources. Partnerships directly with NGOs can be contentious, and businesses need to listen to and address the concerns of co-optation and whitewashing. But the global environment for traditional funding mechanisms is increasingly toxic. According to UN experts and leading funders, nearly a hundred governments have put limits on NGOs’ operations, including the ability to accept foreign (especially NGO) funding. For the financial survival of civil society, seeking support from businesses might be an option—if it is on equal footing and with clear redlines to maintain independence.

Civil society needs space and protection to carry out its work, and it is not just a moral imperative, but an investment opportunity for businesses to help secure that space and protection. The leadership, leverage and solidarity shown by companies who see support to civic freedoms and human right defenders as part of core business will pay long-term dividends.

Along similar lines runs the article “Davos | Global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants global business response” by the International Service of Human Rights on 20 January 2017:

Business and civil society alike thrive in open democracies. It is in their collective interest that business enterprises play an active role in responding to the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos have been told.

Human rights defenders and other civil society actors play a vital role in promoting and contributing to good governance, sustainable development and the rule of law. This is explicitly recognised in Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its associated indicators. In many cases, this work involves defenders exposing corruption, protesting environmental degradation, and demanding that the benefits of development are shared by all, including the most poor and disadvantaged. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, this work also involves defenders being subject to restrictions and attacks, with recent research demonstrating that those working on land and environment rights and in the field of business and human rights are most at risk of being killed. This week’s assassination of Mexican indigenous and environmental rights activist Isidro Baldenegro is just the most recent tragic example of the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms.

What is the role and responsibility, and what should be the response, of business enterprises to this crackdown? This was a key question at the World Economic Forum attended by ISHR representatives in Davos, Switzerland this week. Progressive business enterprises are increasingly recognising the shared values and interest of business and civil society in an open, enabling operating environment. This is an environment characterised by respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, access to information, public participation, non-discrimination and the rule of law. It is in such open environments that innovation, productivity and development thrive. Progressive business enterprises are also recognising the significant costs associated with the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, with the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Risks Reportidentifying the ‘fraying of the rule of law and declining civic freedoms’ as a key business risk. In his statement to the Forum, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights similarly said: ‘Business cannot thrive in failing societies, where tension spikes and communities bristle with grievances and mutual contempt. Strong civil societies, due process, equality and justice: these are what enable real economic empowerment’.

Business enterprises and business leaders exercise significant influence in shaping public and political opinion and legislative and policy-making processes, not just in areas of corporate and economic policy but on social issues such as LGBTI rights. They should exercise similar influence in response to the increasing restrictions and risks faced by defenders. The conversations in Davos this week recognised the shared interest of business and civil society in the protection of human rights defenders and civic freedoms. The killing in Mexico of Isidro Baldenegro at the same time as these discussions were taking place tragically demonstrates the need for business to move beyond recognition to action.

This action could encompass a range of responses, such as:

The global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants a global business response.

Sources:

https://www.ishr.ch/news/davos-global-crackdown-civil-society-and-civic-freedoms-warrants-global-business-response

Business can and should ally with those defending human rights | openDemocracy

International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders: Agents of change under pressure

December 1, 2016

On 29 November 2006, Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) from around the globe gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka and declared this day as theirs. November 29th therefore became the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, and is now celebrated all over the world in recognition of the courageous work that they do to defend their own and other women’s rights.

There are too many activities that could be reported in the context of this anniversary [see earlier posts on WHRDs https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/] but here a few (seven) links that could have escaped your attention: Read the rest of this entry »

Southeast Asia: women on the frontlines of climate justice

January 21, 2016

Nathalie Margi writes in Open Democracy of 6 December 2015 that throughout Southeast Asia, hundreds of women environmental human rights defenders have been jailed, attacked and defamed as threats to “national security”. They remain without adequate resources, protection and funding for their work. In the piece entitled “Defending land and community: women on the frontlines of climate justice”, she says inter alia:  Read the rest of this entry »

Evaluations should allow also to find unexpected impacts of human rights work

January 15, 2016

Evaluations of human rights work should not just be results assessment, but instead, like (in line with Emma Naughton and Kevin Kelpin) as a learning process to discover un expected impacts. Muriel Asseraf in an article in Open Democracy on 22 October 2015, “Finding the unexpected impacts of human rights work“, argues just that in the context of Conectas in Brazil:

Only by understanding if advocacy strategies have been effective and why (or why not), can we understand whether it would make sense to replicate it. Last year, for the first time, Conectas and partner organizations from the Criminal Justice Network launched a large media campaign against the practice of invasive strip-searches for family members who visit their relatives in prison. The impact of the campaign was two-fold: in the state of Sao Paulo, where the campaign was launched, a law was passed to ban the practice, which in and of itself was a great victory. In addition, while not endorsing “human rights” directly, a new audience started to empathize with the situation of these women—grandmothers, mothers or daughters—who have to go through these humiliating treatments in order to visit their relatives in prison. By appealing to people’s understanding of the barbaric situation that prisoners’ relatives have to go through, as opposed to prisoners themselves, the campaign gathered unprecedented support. This impact was unexpected, and learning to identify it has helped us think about other human rights campaigns that could rally an even larger audience to our causes.

In fact, the unexpected lessons that we learn from our evaluation processes happen often. They are frequently surprising and always relevant, and they have informed our strategies and planning processes in ways both profound and constructive.

For example, another evaluation process helped us understand that Conectas’ use of international mechanisms was largely reinforced by how the international press covered the case. Resolutions and recommendations do impact official interlocutors, but if recommendations are somehow featured in international dailies, the reaction of government officials can be much more rapid….

Over time, we have raised our team’s awareness of the need to evaluate their work. Conectas now carries out rigorous planning processes: based on our five-year strategic plan, and our three-year tactical plan, our programs and areas develop annual operational plans that are reviewed twice a year during formal evaluations. The teams themselves conduct these evaluations because, as Naughton and Kelpin have also noted, they are the best suited to understand the subtleties and complexities of a particular situation, and to identify changes or unplanned impacts that others might not see.

During these evaluations, we try to consider not only the quality of the implementation of any given action—although that is also a critical part of the process—but more importantly the feedback of important stakeholders. Participants in our bi-annual Colloquium are asked to answer an opinion survey at the end of the event, as well as six months later in order to measure the impact of the event on their lives and work. Readers and contributors to the Sur Journal are also regularly questioned about how relevant and useful they find the articles for their work.

These survey results have at times been surprising, such as the finding that despite our many efforts to disseminate the print edition of the Sur Journal, the online version has a much larger following. As a result, we decided to transform it into a primarily online journal. The Colloquium surveys have also revealed important elements about the program and format of the meeting….

…. by remaining open to unexpected results, we hope to always evolve and adapt to what is around us. And we can only hope that each organization will do the same, in order to build a more complete view of the field and create more effective interventions.

Full article at: Finding the unexpected impacts of human rights work | openDemocracy

Companies speaking out on human rights: less rare but not enough

June 17, 2015

On 17 June 2015 Open Democracy carried an article by Mauricio Lazala (Deputy Director at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre) and Joe Bardwell (Corporate Accountability and Communications Officer at the same) under the title: “What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t.”

It states that many companies nowadays speak out for human rights when it relates directly to their operations, but not to take a stand on broader human rights issues. It opens with the case of Formula One in Azerbaijan (Bernie Ecclestone, on the country’s human rights record,: “I think everybody seems to be happy. Doesn’t seem to be any big problem there.”

Companies tend to see the risks outweighing the benefits of publicly speaking out. The greater the leverage, the greater the risk, and the greater the reluctance to speak out. For example, earlier this year, Leber Jeweller, Inc., Tiffany & Co. and Brilliant Earth released statements calling on the Angolan government to drop charges against Rafael Marques, a journalist on trial for defamation after exposing abuses in the diamond industry, but none of these companies actually had operations in Angola. In fact, ITM Mining, who does have operations in Angola, pressed their case forward even when settlement with other parties looked likely.

Even where a company has significant leverage over a government, it might be reluctant to use this to further human rights. BP, for example, is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, investing billions each year. Asked to respond to human rights concerns around its sponsorship of the European Games (being  held in Azerbaijan in June 2015), BP replied that it does “not believe that seeking to influence the policies of sovereign governments could be considered to be a part of our role as a sponsor of the European Games”. Of course, as David Petrasek said, BP would certainly seek to ‘influence the policies of sovereign governments‘ when the company’s interests are at stake.

Where the protection of human rights clashes with business interests, even some companies with strong human rights commitments show disregard for them. Earlier this year, 31 Swedish companies released a letter highlighting their concerns around statements by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, criticizing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The Swedish companies called for the protection of economic relationships over these human rights considerations.

The article list some cases of companies speaking out:

  • In January 2014, clothing companies sourcing from Cambodia, including Adidas, Columbia, Gap, H&M, Inditex, Levi Strauss and Puma, condemned the government for its violent crackdown on striking garment workers that resulted in deaths and injuries.
  • In March 2013, in Peru, six US textile firms urged the Peruvian Government to repeal a law that condoned labour rights violations, making it difficult for them to implement their own sourcing codes of conduct.
  • And in 2009, in response to the coup in Honduras, major apparel companies called for the restoration of democracy. 
  • In the ICT sector, Google pulled out of China in 2010 over censorship attempts.
  • In the food sector, two Thai seafood associations provided the bail for rights activist Andy Hall, who was imprisoned and charged in 2014 following his investigations into abuses of migrant workers in the food industry.
  • In March of this year, 379 businesses and organizations submitted a public statement to the US Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage, including corporate behemoths such as Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley.
  • And in the last couple years, hundreds of companies have publicly expressed their support for the peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrillas, when in the past most companies in Colombia kept a very low profile in relation to the armed conflict.
  • 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.

A “business case” to support tolerant and open civic spaces is not too difficult to make. Businesses clearly benefit when the rules of the game are clear, consumers are empowered, employees are respected, and the judicial system works well. Where human rights thrive and defenders are protected, companies will also find it easier to comply with their own codes of conduct and meet their public commitments to human rights.

Speaking out for human rights could even help companies. Firms in the US are discovering that taking an enlightened public stance on social justice issues hasn’t hurt their bottom line and makes business sense—it helps attract and retain new customers and the best staff. Investors are also increasingly looking at the social and environmental records of companies, and companies needing access to multilateral banks and export credit agencies need to comply with strict international standards. And sometimes businesses just don’t want the bad press that comes with being associated with a repressive government.

Companies can be a powerful voice in the protection of the vulnerable in repressive countries, particularly where abuses are taking place linked to their industry and when they are major investors. Unfortunately, many companies remain unwilling to speak out for human rights, especially when they think that doing so might hurt them financially. However, a few brave companies are helping to create and expand “enabling environments” for human rights. Perhaps they can set a new trend for companies speaking out to protect civic 

 

“What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t | openDemocracy.

Human Rights Defenders must shift their framework, to earn the public’s support

April 20, 2015

Open Democracy carries regularly interesting pieces related to human rights defenders (e.g. https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/daysi-flores/hope-as-survival-strategy-for-defensoras-in-honduras), but I draw your attention to a particular pertinent one on the ‘framing’ of the human rights debate. This blog has always taken a special interest in this aspect of human rights work [see e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/media-framing-and-the-independence-of-the-judiciary-the-case-of-water-boarding/]. This post by Rachel Krys focuses on the United Kingdom but much is relevant to other European countries where similarly there are sustained efforts – with the media leading or at least being a conduit – to give ‘human rights’ either a bad name or at least portray it as something ‘foreign’, ‘European’ [!!] and only necessary for others. Read the rest of this entry »

Conectas tries to balance Brazil’s human rights commitments at home and abroad

January 30, 2015

Under the title “Home and abroad: balancing Brazil’s human rights commitments”, Muriel Asseraf – in Open Democracy of 22 january 2015 – has written an interesting piece highlighting the role of the major NGO Conectas, whose strategy is based on “the conviction that human rights defenders and their organizations in the global south hold the key to an international order more diverse and committed to the respect of human rights”. A good read for the weekend! Read the rest of this entry »