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Human Rights Defenders & Civic Freedoms

HRDs’ work is essential to the business and human rights movement because of their critical importance for ensuring corporate responsibility and accountability. Yet, attacks on them are growing. This hub brings together news on these advocates and communities - specifically on land, environmental and labour defenders, guidance for companies and investors, and supportive business actions. It also links to our database of attacks and interview series.

We all have the right and the responsibility to promote human rights and to safeguard democracy and its institutions. Human rights defenders are those of us that actively do so. Around the world, civic freedoms and human rights defenders (HRDs) are increasingly under attack and the environment in which civil society can operate freely is narrowing. This phenomenon is taking place not just in countries that are led by repressive or autocratic governments, but also in established democracies. In particular, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of information, and the right to privacy, are under increasing attack. Both companies and defenders have a shared interest in the full respect of civic freedoms, characterised by non-discrimination, transparent and accountable government, and freedom from corruption.

Prioritisation of business interests over interests of communities and workers is one of the key challenges faced by defenders. HRDs who confront business interests – be it human rights lawyers, labour activists and unionists, land and environmental defenders, anti-corruption activists or human rights journalists – are among those defenders most at risk. They are key agents of change, and they contribute greatly to safeguarding human rights and ensuring corporate responsibility. This portal collects the latest news on struggles and victories of these defenders, public company actions and policies in support of defenders and civic freedoms, guidance for companies and investors, and developments related to the two most targeted groups - labour rights defenders and land and environmental defenders. It also links to our database of attacks and our interview series, where defenders share their strategies, victories, and recommendations and business representatives share their perspectives on protecting civic freedoms and human rights.

The responsibility of businesses to respect human rights not only entails a negative duty to refrain from violating the rights of others, but also a positive obligation to support a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in the countries in which they are operating. Discharging this duty requires consultation with defenders in order to understand the issues at stake and the shortcomings that impede their work.
Mr Michel Forst, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

Featured stories & campaigns

Brazil: Environmental and land rights defender Mrs. Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira wins Edelstam Prize 2020

Woman Human Rights Defender Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest was awarded the Edelstam Prize 2020 for her outstanding work reporting to federal authorities illegal logging of the forest. Criminal networks engage in the large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, illegal land seizures, illegal mining, and threaten and kill those who obstruct their activities like Mrs. Pereira.

Just recovery in peril: Human Rights Defenders face increasing risk during COVID-19

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) have continued unabated. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and some governments have misused the situation to further curtail civil rights and public participation. This report highlights the increasing risks faced by HRDs and the need for a just recovery where business respects human rights and the crucial role that defenders play.

UN Forum on Business & Human Rights: MWRN receives the 2020 Human Rights & Business Award

The Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a grassroots association that works to protect the rights of migrant workers in Thailand, received the 2020 Human Rights & Business Award on November 17, 2020 during the annual UN Forum on Business & Human Rights. MWRN was founded in 2009 by nine Myanmar migrant leaders amid extensive exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in Thai factories, the seafood industry, agriculture and construction.

Explore further: Database of attacks on HRDs & HRDs Interview series

The Resource Centre collects data on attacks on defenders that are targeted because they raise concerns about business sectors and operations. Collecting data about attacks on defenders is important in order to analyse patterns of violence, identify at-risk business sectors and geographic areas, and provide support to targeted individuals and groups.