Business, civic freedoms and human rights defenders: Which developments and ideas did we put in the spotlight?

We continuously highlight important developments, research, actions and ideas at the intersection of business, civic freedoms and the work of human rights defenders:

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Article
11 October 2017

Brands urged to defend rights of Cambodia garment workers

Author: Beth Wright, Just-Style

A trio of labour and human rights groups are calling on multinational apparel companies sourcing from Cambodia to take a stand against what they say is "repression" in the country and urge the Cambodian government to respect human and labour rights.

Clean Clothes Campaign, Worker Rights Consortium, and International Labor Rights Forum say they are deeply concerned about the closing of democratic and civil society space in Cambodia. The groups claim the trend has recently escalated with what they call "alarming high-profile incidents of repression against political leaders, non-governmental organizations, and independent media."...

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Article
25 July 2017

Thailand: Environmental defenders sued by state & co.; villagers face up to ten years in prison for opposition to mining

Author: Fortify Rights (Thailand)

"Thailand: Drop Charges, Protect Environmental Defenders", 24 Jul 2017

Thailand authorities should drop all criminal charges against seven environmental defenders facing more than five years in prison for engaging in peaceful protests in Loei Province, Fortify Rights said... The Loei Provincial Court will decide [on] July 25, whether a case against...women involved in...a protest...in November 2016 will go to trial. The same court will also issue a verdict...against 22 environmental defenders involved in blocking a local road during a peaceful protest against the mine in Loei in 2013. The 22 defendants...face up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine... [In] November...2016, more than 200 residents from Na Nong Bong village marched to the...Administrative Council Office in Loei Province, where the Council planned...to decide whether the...Tungkum Limited...company would be granted permission...for mining operations. The residents staged a peaceful sit-in at the meeting space to voice their opposition... Thai police...charged...seven women,...members of Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG)—[an] environmental rights group—with allegedly violating... the Thai Criminal Code [and]...the 2015 Public Assembly Act... KRBKG has consistently advocated for the mine's permanent closure and rehabilitation of the local environment. In addition to the current charges brought by the state, Tungkum Ltd. has brought 19 criminal and civil complaints initiated against villagers...

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Article
12 July 2017

Attacked for activism: How do we protect activists in Latin America?

Author: Fund for Global Human Rights and Just Associates (JASS)

"Activists need new tools to protect themselves", 11 Jul 2017

A record number of activists are being killed in Latin America – and old methods of security aren’t working. How do we protect activists facing threats from shadowy actors and complicit governments? To begin answering this question, the Fund for Global Human Rights and Just Associates (JASS) brought together activists from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia as well as international organizations in January of this year. The groups homed in on the changing needs of human rights defenders in light of the increasing trend of non-state actors attacking activists. This new context for activists requires new tools. The groups concluded that human rights defenders need more sophisticated methods to detect and prevent attacks, and support for collective, community-led protection approaches. Below are the full interviews (in Spanish, with an English transcription) with activists who attended the convening in Mexico City.

Interviews with Latin American activists:

Interview with Claudia Samayoa, the general coordinator for the Protection of Unit of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, known as UDEFEGUA. Transcript available here.

"We must take up an old practice, from the 1970s and 80s: to thoroughly comprehend whom we are facing. We must break the silence that surrounds organized crime. We must accept that we are terrified of them, but we must also recognize that our adversary has its weaknesses, as did other adversaries we faced in the past. And we can only do this together, because this is a globalized world and organized crime is transnational, because usually the extractive companies that order assassinations and attacks are also transnational, and this way we can find weaknesses in these powerful actors."

Interview with Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Ofraneh). Transcript available here

"Today we cannot speak of an advocate or a human rights defender as an individual, or think that they are up there, defending something ethereal. We are on the ground, in territories organizing collective defenses of collective rights. And one of the fundamental changes is that we must promote processes to articulate and strengthen organizational processes, so that we have greater strength. And we must build that strength up from a local level." 

Interview with Abel Barrera Hernández, director of the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center (CDHM), based in Tlapa, Guerrero, Mexico. Transcript available here

“Human rights defenders are at risk, because we are raising our voices, because we are denouncing these crimes, because we are exposing the collusion between organized crime, the police and some politicians that are damaging the life of our society.”

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Article
12 July 2017

Foreign Trade Association calls for out-of-court settlement of defamation lawsuit brought by Thai poultry Thammakaset against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar

Author: Foreign Trade Association

“Subject: Increased partnership in sustainability – Call for out-of-court settlement of the Thammakaset case”, 11 Jul 2017

…The Thammakaset legal case, which started in June 2016 when it was revealed that 14 migrant workers were working under illegal conditions, is an important litmus test. The Thammakaset poultry farm, a sub-supplier of Betagro, triggered legal proceeding against these migrant workers, the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), and Andy Hall in person for alleged defamation and computer crime. The Foreign Trade Association (FTA) and an important number of its members are closely following this legal proceeding. The freedom of expression is a fundamental right and victims of illegal labour practices and human rights defenders need to be able to openly voice their viewpoints and concerns. Therefore, we encourage both parties to fully exploit the possibility of an extra-judicial settlement of the case, as we firmly believe that the path of constructive and open dialogue should be privileged…

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Article
11 July 2017

Brazil: 13 police officers arrested for allegedly participating in massacre of 10 rural workers in a farm in Para

Author: teleSUR (Venezuela)

"Brazil Arrests 13 Policemen Involved in Para Campesino Massacre-Landless workers demanded justice for the killing of 10 Brazilian campesinos more than two months ago.", 11 July 2017

Thirteen police officers have been detained for allegedly participating in a recent massacre that killed ten campesinos in the state of Para, north of Brazil, the most deaths in a land conflict since 1996...[N]ine men and one woman, on the Santa Lucía farm in the town of Pau D'Arco were killed by Brazil's military and civilian police as part of an eviction order led by state forces on May 24. Security officials alleged that the police were fired upon as soon as they arrived at the farm to carry out 14 arrest warrants against people accused of the killing of a security guard employed by the ranch owner a month before. No officers had any injuries after the conflict. Survivors, witnesses, and victims' family members contradict these claims, saying that police arrived on the scene shooting and made no attempt to inform anybody of a legal order...[V]ictims were members of the League of Poor Campesinos, a group of landless activists and 150 families seeking an agrarian reform in the area. The United Nations and the Interamerican Court of Human Rights have already condemned the killing and the excessive use of force by the police, demanding answers from the government of Michel Temer. In 1996, Para state police shot and killed 19 land activists who had blocked a highway to protest their right to remain on a ranch that 3,000 families had occupied...

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Article
11 July 2017

Phil Bloomer discusses the importance of business allies for human rights defenders in interview with Raoul Wallenberg Institute

Author: Malin Oud, Raoul Wallenberg Institute (Sweden)

"Human Rights Defenders Depend on Allies They Can Gain in Business", 4 Jul 2017

In [Raoul Wallenberg Institute]'s  latest episode of “On Human Rights,” we feature an interview from Almedalen with our Stockholm office director Malin Oud who speaks with Phil Bloomer, who is the executive director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre located in London. They talk about business and human rights, how business can be better at protecting human rights in their value chains and which businesses stand out.

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Article
7 July 2017

European banks pull out of Honduras dam project after killings of activists

Author: Associated Press, NBCNews (USA)

…Two European development banks financing construction of a controversial dam project in Honduras have pulled out following the murders of local activists including Berta Caceres, a 2015 winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize…Caceres, a 40-year-old activist who was awarded the Goldman prize for leading a years-long fight against the dam, was killed in March 2016 by gunmen who invaded her home. The dam was to be built on the Gualcarque River, considered sacred by Caceres' Lenca people…Two weeks later another activist from her indigenous organization known as Copinh, Nelson Garcia, was killed. And last July the body of another Copinh activist, Lesbia Janeth Urquia, was found...

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Article
20 June 2017

"As global race for resources gathers pace, are the documented killings of HRDs just the tip of the iceberg?"

Author: Paola Totaro & Matthew Ponsford, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Each week, at least four men and women vanish without trace or are found dead, cut down in a hail of gunfire....Mysterious disappearances, political murders, the killing of women, gangland hits: thousands of cases, seemingly unrelated, are reported every year from all corners of the globe. The number of dead is soaring. And political scholars and activists believe they are connected. They say people are dying protecting their land and homes from global industry's relentless push to develop the natural resources beneath their feet....  According to global watchdogs, resource-rich Honduras and Nicaragua are the world’s deadliest countries for land deaths per capita, while Brazil tops the list in sheer numbers... Subhabrata 'Bobby' Banerjee, professor of management at the University of London's Cass Business School...says academic colleagues have built the Environmental Justice Atlas, a global database of conflicts over natural resources and development, which shows numbers growing ever higher. "Right now there are more than 2,000 reported hot spots around the world," ..."The reality is that there are probably three times that number which are not reported because they are not sexy and don't make TV news." 

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Article
13 June 2017

Business contributing to attacks & helping protect defenders is one of most urgent issues in business & human rights, says UN Working Group

Author: UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

"Human rights defenders and civic space –  the business & human rights dimension", Jun 2017

The safety and security of human rights defenders (HRDs) and increased threats to civic freedoms has become a growing public concern. The role of business has been called into question with respect to its role in contributing to attacks against HRDs, but also its role in helping to protect defenders and support human rights. [This] is one of the most urgent issues for the business and human rights agenda, due to the increasing scale and seriousness.... Against this background, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has decided to give this topic specific attention in its own work and has identified activities it could undertake to complement and support efforts by others, including to...explore practical guidance for business on engaging, respecting and supporting human rights defenders in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as well as the role of business in preserving civic space... Documentation...has... helped in raising awareness of this situation, including much-cited work by Global Witness and by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, which recorded over 400 instances of attacks on defenders working on corporate accountability issues, in 2015 and 2016. [T]hanks to efforts to document this situation and advocacy by CSOs, in particular, initiatives to tackle the problem have been gaining momentum. 

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Article
7 June 2017

CIVICUS 2017 State of Civil Society Report explores relationship between civil society & private sector

Author: CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation

"2017 State of Civil Society Report: Civil Society and the Private Sector"

As business continues to grow in influence globally, the State of Civil Society Report discusses serious concerns over private sector practices that are leading to increased human rights abuses and attacks on fundamental freedoms. The report proposes, as a minimum starting point, a ‘first do no harm’ principle. But it asks the private sector to go beyond this and make an active commitment to work with civil society to uphold the rule of law, human rights and people’s rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression....Just three per cent of the world’s population live in countries where civic space is fully open. Given the growing global role of business, this year’s report sets out an urgent need to make the business case for civic space. The report calls for greater civil society engagement with the private sector, and new relationships, based on honesty, transparency, respect and shared commitment to advance common goals. 27 freshly commissioned articles from our members and partners present a thought-provoking range of insights, full of practical ideas for civil society to influence, work with and address the power of the private sector.

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