Should businesses advocate for human rights defenders? What is the relationship between companies’ economic activities and civil society? The United Nations, through the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, has shed further light on the role of businesses by recently releasing a guidance for companies on ensuring respect for human rights defenders.
Human rights defenders who raise concerns about the adverse impact of business operations – often in the context of large development projects that affect access to land and livelihoods – do so in order for their communities to live sustainable, healthy life. Many of them however face threats and attacks because of their work.
ISHR works with human rights defenders who advocate on business and human rights issues. We strengthen and build their capacity to defend the rights of their communities at the national and international level. We strengthen mechanisms to ensure that defenders are adequately protected from intimidation and harassment, attacks and restrictions associated with their work in the intersection of human rights and business activities.
Today, global companies are expected to behave responsibly and assess the human rights risks associated with their operations. Companies can no longer hide behind complex international supply chains or a network of subsidiaries owned by authoritarian leaders. Businesses have a responsibility to understand the complexities of the countries where they invest, to examine the suppliers they buy from, and to take into consideration the potential for impact associated with operating in countries where governance is weak and the rule of law is fragile.
At ISHR, we believe that businesses and human rights defenders operate in and benefit from a “shared civic space” defined by common, fundamental elements. The rule of law and freedom of expression, association, assembly and public participation are essential to the realisation of all human rights, to good governance and accountable institutions. These elements are also critical to stable, profitable and sustainable business environments in which companies thrive and economies, communities and people prosper.
To push this, at ISHR we co-manage the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, an informal network of international leading companies, convened and facilitated by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the B Team and ISHR. Founded in 2016, it explores the role of companies in helping to protect civic freedoms and human rights defenders, enables discussion and mutual learning, and is used flexibly to initiate individual or collective action around the world.