Positive action by companies to protect civic freedoms

Below is a selection of articles, reports, blogs, commentaries and corporate policies highlighting key actions taken by companies to protect civic freedoms.

The main elements of a safe and enabling environment for civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) are the respect for basic freedoms, strong compliance with the rule of law, removal of all obstacles for registration and operation, end to all forms of impunity, and free access to remedy and redress mechanisms. All these are the same elements that are conducive for healthy environments in which to conduct business and investments. The fates of CSOs, HRDs, and companies are closely intertwined.

Human rights, labour rights and environmental defenders, journalists, lawyers, and anti-corruption campaigners are key agents of change, and they contribute greatly to safeguarding human rights and the rule of law. As such, both companies and defenders have a shared interest in the full respect of freedoms of expression, association and assembly, characterised by non-discrimination, transparent and accountable government, and freedom from corruption.

However, the operating context for CSOs and HRDs has become, and continues to become increasingly restrictive and dangerous in many countries. These countries include those in which companies operate and invest. More and more companies understand that they can have a powerful voice in the protection of civic freedoms, especially where abuses are taking place linked to their industry and/or operations. Below are some of these recent examples of emerging good practices and drivers of such actions.


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16 January 2017

UK: 80 companies join NGO in calling on govt. to implement UN Sustainable Development Goals

Author: Ian Johnston, Independent (UK)

"World could enjoy utopian future with sustainable development, year-long study finds", 16 Jan 2017

...[A] a major new report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC)...spells out how to create...a world that is wealthier, more peaceful and fair for all.  And their call for the world to start living up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals was backed by more than 80 major companies in a joint letter...which urged the UK Government to take this “essential” step to secure “our long-term prosperity and the well-being of generations to come”...They then estimated the total economic prize would be two to three times higher...[A]chieving gender equality alone could add at least $12,000bn to the world’s total GDP by 2025...The report warned...“...the costs and uncertainty of unsustainable development could swell until there is no viable world in which to do business,”...The signatories included supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, financial firms like PWC, KPMG and HSBC, and various other corporate giants from BT to Coca-Cola and Mars...They asked Ms May to “demonstrate to business your commitment to deliver” the Global Goals “in the UK” and get the Government to work with the private sector on the issue...

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16 January 2017

USA: 600+ investors & companies call on Trump administration to take action on climate change & low-carbon economy

Author: Daniel Brooksbank, Responsible Investor (UK)

“Top US investors and companies unite to promote low carbon future ahead of Trump inauguration”, 10 January 2017

Some of the leading institutional investors in the US and a host of the country’s blue-chip companies have called on the incoming Trump administration and the new Congress to support policies to accelerate a low-carbon future...In total, there are 637 signatories…including the likes of CalSTRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund alongside major firms such as DuPont, Gap, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Hilton, Nike, Intel and a host of other household names…[T]he signatories say, in a show of unity across the investor-corporate chain…"Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness."…Trump has claimed climate change is a hoax and has put climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, made Exxon Mobil’s CEO his Secretary of State and pledged to eliminate climate change research conducted by space agency Nasa…

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13 January 2017

Commentary: Companies with inclusive LGBT policies gain significant economic benefits

Author: Antonio Zappulla, Thomson Reuters Foundation News (UK)

"To advance LGBT rights, companies must think "glocally"", 12 Jan 2017

When it comes to LGBT rights, this decade has seen a positive sea-change...U.S. federal law has no workplace protection for LGBT employees, yet 91% of Fortune 500 companies have introduced non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation.  67% of them have gone further, and have voluntarily extended health and insurance benefits to all LGBT families...Despite this encouraging progress,...[t]he waste of human and economic potential is immense.  A report by Out Now estimates the U.S. economy could add an extra $9 billion a year if companies improved their ability to retain LGBT talent through the implementation of inclusive policies...[T]he World Bank estimates India is losing $32 billion a year in economic output precisely because of widespread discrimination against LGBT people...Companies with strong LGBT policies tend to innovate the most, to have loyal employees, and to experience significantly less cases of discrimination lawsuits...Where to start from, especially when operating in countries where same-sex relations are illegal?  The answer is to think and act glocally: underscoring the business benefits of diversity locally, and adopting global policies that make the workplace safe, fair and accepting for all...[Also refers to Adidas, Apple, BP, NBA, Starbucks and Uber]

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12 January 2017

Germany: CEO initiative encourages companies to facilitate integration of migrants

Author: Patrick McGee, Financial Times

“German billionaire rallies business to migrant cause”, 8 January 2017

…As Germany grapples with the consequences of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, the role that the country’s powerful corporate sector will play in…integrating migrants has become increasingly apparent…[A] survey found that Germany’s leading companies had hired only 54 refugees in full-time jobs. Ralph Dommermuth,...chief executive of United Internet…came up with the idea of a platform for corporate Germany to pool resources and help to integrate migrants... The initiative, called Wir Zusammen, or We Together, was founded…with 36 companies, including Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Bank…[and] has grown to 150 companies, including…international companies such as Google, McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble…[It] encourages companies to share efforts in getting migrants jobs and apprenticeships, language training, housing or even to play the odd football match…Mr Dommermuth acknowledges that few full-time jobs have been created. But he says integration and training are important first steps…A Wir Zusammen advertising campaign…encourage[s]…to view migrants as potential partners, not threats…

[Also refers to: ThyssenKrupp]

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23 December 2016

USA: 2678 employees of tech companies take a stance on proposed Muslim registry, vow to protect privacy & engage in responsible whistleblowing

Author: Leigh Honeywell, Never Again Tech

We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable. We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out...Today we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.

We commit to the following actions:

  • We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin.
  • We will advocate within our organizations:
    • to minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.
    • to scale back existing datasets with unnecessary racial, ethnic, and national origin data.
    • to responsibly destroy high-risk datasets and backups...
  • If we discover misuse of data that we consider illegal or unethical in our organizations:
    • We will work with our colleagues and leaders to correct it.
    • If we cannot stop these practices, we will exercise our rights and responsibilities to speak out publicly and engage in responsible whistleblowing without endangering users...
  • We will raise awareness and ask critical questions about the responsible and fair use of data and algorithms beyond our organization and our industry.

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21 December 2016

US tech firms say they will not help govt. build registry of Muslims, if asked

Author: Nick Statt, Verge (USA)

Apple, Google, and Uber join list of tech companies refusing to build Muslim registry, 16 Dec 2016

Apple, Google [part of Alphabet], and Uber have all broken their respective silences on whether they would participate in helping build a Muslim registry for the incoming Trump administration, BuzzFeed reports... [An] Apple spokesperson said, “We think people should be treated the same no matter how they worship, what they look like, who they love. We haven’t been asked and we would oppose such an effort.”

...Google...[said], “In relation to the hypothetical of whether we would ever help build a ‘muslim registry’ — we haven’t been asked, of course we wouldn’t do this and we are glad...that the proposal doesn’t seem to be on the table.” Meanwhile, Uber responded to BuzzFeed with a terse “no”... Twitter...[was the first to say] it would never participate in such a project... Facebook...[also issued] a statement saying it had not been asked, nor would it agree, to helping build a Muslim registry... Microsoft...said..., “We oppose discrimination and we wouldn’t do any work to build a registry of Muslim Americans.”

Ride-hailing company Lyft, which like Uber could hypothetically be asked to hand over user travel data, said today it would refuse to participate with the government if it were asked for such data or other tools to build a Muslim registry, according to Inc. So too did publishing company Medium... And yesterday, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg signed a fast-growing industry pledge on behalf of his company Automattic, which oversees WordPress.com... One notable exception here has been Oracle...[which] has in the past counted the National Security Agency as a client. 

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21 December 2016

USA: CEO of Penzeys Spices achieves sales surge by standing up against discriminatory rhetoric

Author: Eric March, Upworthy

“A spice company CEO took a stand against bigotry. It turned out to be good for business”, 2 December 2016

…Bill Penzey, CEO of Penzeys Spices, unloaded on Donald Trump's rhetoric in the company newsletter…Both supporters and detractors flooded the Facebook post with…comments. Some threatened to boycott the spice company…[T]he company…urges other CEOs to speak out to defend an inclusive, tolerant America…The company claims…an increase in online sales of nearly 60%. The CEO said that despite the backlash, he has no regrets about speaking up…Standing up against bigotry and discrimination shouldn't be a left or right issue…Progressives, moderates, and conservatives all have a stake in this country and its bedrock ideals: inclusion, pluralism, freedom of expression, and democracy…While the company's sales surge post-newsletter is further evidence that bigotry and division are bad for business, it also demonstrates that hope and inclusion can be a winning sales pitch. Fixing the division that erupted in this country post-election is going to take individual action, organizing, and more companies…flexing their financial muscle…

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Author: Libération (France)

« Airbnb demande à ses utilisateurs de signer un engagement antidiscriminations », 31 octobre 2016

Face à des cas récurrents de refus d'hébergement par des loueurs, pour des raisons notamment racistes, la plateforme de location a annoncé plusieurs mesures, dont l'élaboration d'une charte...

...Les utilisateurs de Airbnb souhaitant louer leur logement à d’autres devront le faire en traitant « chacun avec respect, sans jugement ou préjugé, et sans distinction de race, religion, origine nationale, ethnicité, handicap, sexe, identité de genre, orientation sexuelle, ou âge »...

...Le refus de signer cet engagement conduira à ne plus pouvoir « héberger ou réserver sur Airbnb »...

...Dans son document publié en septembre, Airbnb a également annoncé la mise en place d’une équipe spécifiquement consacrée à ces questions...

En décembre 2015, une étude de chercheurs de l’université de Harvard avait montré que, aux Etats-Unis, les personnes dont le nom avait une « consonance afro-américaine » avaient 16% de chances en moins de voir leur demande de location acceptée... 

Sur son site, Airbnb dispose d’un formulaire pour signaler une discrimination.

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24 October 2016

Human Rights Defenders act as a form of unpaid due dilligence for companies, so it makes sense to defend them, says Duncan Green

Author: Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB and author of ‘From Poverty to Power’

"Why/how should corporates defend civil society space? Good new paper + case studies", 19 Oct 2016

I saw some effective academic-NGO cooperation last week...The occasion was the launch of Beyond Integrity: Exploring the role of business in preserving civil society space...[T]he authors went looking for cases where businesses had got involved in defending civil society from attacks by government, and identified four really interesting cases...They interviewed a number of...players in each case. Some points that emerged: The importance of individuals and organizations that bridge the corporate and civil society spheres...Long term partnerships can help retain access to those networks even when people move on...The business case for acting to defend civil society space varies according to the sector and country, but overall, human rights defenders act as a form of unpaid due diligence for companies, keeping them alert to risks emerging within the system. So it makes sense to defend them. However, company agency is difficult and can easily backfire into nationalist accusations of foreign meddling....An issue will be more legitimate if it directly affects core company operations (staff, shareholders, brand, communities where they operate).

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14 October 2016

Ben & Jerry’s using its platform to amplify the voices of the unheard should be an example for other companies

Author: Kayla Stewart, Upworthy

"Ben & Jerry's just explained systemic racism in a mic-dropping statement", 7 Oct 2016

In a [recent] statement, Ben & Jerry’s team broke down why black lives matter. Their commitment to social justice and political responsibility isn’t new. The ice cream tycoons have long worked toward addressing systemic injustice with social consciousness. In April 2016, the co-founders were arrested outside the U.S. capitol while taking part in a “Democracy Awakening” protest...” They’ve also made strides in ensuring that the farmers who help produce the ingredients...are treated fairly. And in January 2015, they committed to using fair-trade certified ingredients, such as sugar, coffee, and bananas. Ben & Jerry’s has also been...a vocal proponent of LGBTQ rights. (In 1989, [they were] the first major company in Vermont to offer health insurance to same-sex couples and employees’ domestic partners.)...Their support of the Black Lives Matter movement is an example for companies like Air Academy Federal Credit Union, who dropped Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall for peacefully protesting police brutality and injustice. Instead of cowering to those who are uncomfortable with reality, Ben & Jerry’s is using its platform to amplify the voices of the unheard and ask that the status quo be changed.  This matters because when major companies, celebrities, politicians, and other recognizable faces go against the grain and stand up against inequality, they become up-standers that can ultimately affect real, positive change in the communities that need it most.  

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