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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Article
17 February 2017

USA: Facebook CEO's manifesto on what co. can do to tackle fake news, decrease polarization & engage more people in civic process

Author: Olivia Solon, The Guardian

"Mark Zuckerberg pens major Facebook manifesto on how to burst the bubble", 17 Feb 2017

Mark Zuckerberg has written a...riposte to...growing anti-globalization sentiment. The 5,700-word manifesto...outlines the challenges...and the measures that Facebook can take to address them, [ranging] [f]rom climate change and pandemics to terrorism and inequality...“Facebook stands for...building a global community. When we began, this idea was not controversial. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection." ...Zuckerberg avoided making reference to...Donald Trump and Brexit...CEO says...Facebook is now shifting its focus to “developing...infrastructure for community – for supporting us,...keeping us safe,...informing us,...civic engagement, and...inclusion of all”...“ [W]e’re starting to explore ways to use AI to tell the difference between news stories about terrorism and actual terrorist propaganda...” ...He [elaborated on] “fake news” and sensational click-baity headlines,...which...[lead] to increased polarization...In the “civically-engaged community” section, Zuckerberg talks about how to get more people to engage in the civic process...[and] developing tools to remind people to register to vote and...organize protests...He notes that “major advances in AI” would be needed to understand [if] text, photos and videos...contain hate speech..., but that some of this will be possible in 2017. You can read the full post here

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Article
10 February 2017

Facebook implements new policies to combat racial discrimination in advertising

Author: Alex Hern, Guardian UK

“Facebook stops advertisers illegally discriminating by race”, 9 February 2017

Facebook has updated its advertising policies to ban discrimination based on…personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age. Accompanying new policies is a section aimed at educating advertisers about [permitted] ad targeting…, both in terms of Facebook’s own policies and applicable national laws…Facebook plans to use new…“machine learning”… technology… to identify…offenders. [This] follows accusations that [Facebook]… offered tools that allow advertisers to break American anti-discrimination laws, through an… “ethnic affinity” profiling…ad-targeting feature... Although Facebook emphasise[s]…the feature, is not the same as racial profiling, a…wave of negative publicity arrived in October 2016, when ProPublica reported that… [it] could be used to exclude particular groups from advertising for home sales. That is explicitly banned under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, due to America’s long history of segregation. Now, if Facebook’s tools think that a user is attempting to implement “multicultural advertising segments” targeting unlawfully, it will [en]force… [a] manual review, with a Facebook employee explicitly checking…compliance. And for housing, employment and credit adverts…the company is asking advertisers to explicitly certify their compliance with relevant laws.

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Article
3 February 2017

Leadership, leverage & solidarity by companies who support humans right defenders will pay long-term dividends, says Intl. Service for Human Rights

Author: Sarah Brooks, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

"Business can and should ally with those defending human rights", 1 Feb 2017

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....[B]usinesses are driven by...bottom line...But...many business leaders are coming around to the idea...that long-term success...is linked to...transparency, certainty, stability [a]nd a social license to operate... [B]usiness should see human rights defenders [HRDs] as priceless allies....They are the canaries in the coalmines, pointing to when governance failures become real financial, legal, and reputational risks to business [and are] witnesses to corporate abuse...[Business] has a[n] ability to...defend space for civil society through...leverage, leadership, and partnerships...[Businesses] can use the leverage provided by access, personal relationships and market share to push back on authoritarian impulses...[P]rogressive businesses also need to show leadership... For the financial survival of civil society, seeking support from businesses might be an option—if it is on equal footing...The leadership, leverage and solidarity shown by companies who see support to civic freedoms and HRDs as part of core business will pay long-term dividends [refers to adidas, FMO]. 

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Article
31 January 2017

Blog: "Calling all business executives: Stand up for American values"

Author: Irit Tamir, Advocacy Manager, Oxfam America's Private Sector Department

...While a few corporate leaders, primarily out of Silicon Valley, noted their concern over the impact of the ban [on legal immigrants and refugees from seven predominantely Muslim countries from entering the USA] on their employees, an overwhelming number of corporate leaders have remained shockingly silent.

President Trump—who campaigned on his business acumen—has convened a group of leading corporate executives in a Strategic and Policy Forum to provide him with advice and counsel. Of the 19 executives who serve in this agenda-setting role, only two have spoken up about the ban (companies have taken varying approaches to criticizing the ban). It has been reported that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is seeking a consensus on changes to the immigration ban among fellow forum members, but the time to speak up is now. And not just about tinkering with the ban to make it less restrictive of green card holders –the whole thing needs to go. The silence from any executive is unconscionable, but from those on the Forum in particular...

When several states sought to pass bills that would limit LGBT rights, Fortune 500 companies led the fight to stand up for human rights. This included Walmart in Arkansas, Disney in Georgia, and PepsiCo and GE in Mississippi, all of whom sit on President Trump’s forum and will have the President’s ear on Friday when he meets with them...

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Article
30 January 2017

USA: In response to Trump’s immigration ban, Starbucks CEO announces company will hire 10,000 refugees worldwide

Author: Phil Wahba, Fortune

"Starbucks Has a Response to President Trump's Immigration Ban: Hire 10,000 Refugees", 29 Jan 2017

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sought Sunday to reassure employees anguished about President Donald Trump's immigration ban... "I write to you today with deep concern, a heavy heart and a resolute promise," Schultz wrote...to all...employees. "We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question." Trump's executive order, issued on Friday and later blocked in part by federal judges, prohibits citizens from Muslim-majority [countries] from entering the United States for at least 90 days [and] refugees from Syria indefinitely. Schultz...last year called for more civility in the election campaign... Schultz proclaimed himself "stunned" by Trump's...win. He has rarely shied away from weighing in on political debates, trying to prompt Americans to debate race relations [and] asking gun owners not to bring weapons into Starbucks...Schultz...said the company has been in direct contact with employees affected by the immigration ban. Starbucks will redouble its efforts to hire people fleeing war, violence, persecution and discrimination...and hire 10,000 refugees worldwide in the next five years...The CEO also said Starbucks is reimbursing employees who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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Article
24 January 2017

Bangladesh: Apparel firms call on govt. to protect workers' rights & rectify abuses during recent protests

Author: Steering Committee members of the Accord on Fire & Building Safety

"Letter to PM Hasina on Response to Ashulia Wage Protests", 19 Jan 2017

We write as the Steering Committee members of the Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh to express our great concerns regarding the Government's response to the recent RMG industry unrest and wage protests in Ashulia. The Accord is an agreement of nearly 220 global apparel companies and retailers with global and Bangladeshi trade unions representing garment manufacturing and retail workers...We are deeply concerned, however, by recent detentions and termination from employment of individuals with union affiliation and who promote workers' rights. We have received credible reports that since late December 2016 at least fourteen such persons have been detained or arrested; that eleven of these remain in police custody; that 2-3 of have been subject to beatings and/or threats; and that approximately 1500 workers have been terminated from their employment at several Ashulia located RMG factories. Accord signatories are concerned that as many as 700 more persons face court allegations and potential arrest allegedly under the auspices of the Ashulia unrest. We respectfully request that your good Office take immediate action to ensure that RMG workers' rights are protected and that any associated cases of unjust detention, employment termination, and/or fundamental rights violations be urgently rectified consistent with the law and ILO conventions. [Refers to PVH, H&M, Inditex, LC Waikiki, C&A & Otto Group].

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Article
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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Article
15 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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Article
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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Article
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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