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23 Apr 2017

Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation

"The next frontier: the concept of corporate human rights defenders”, Dutch Min. for Foreign Trade & Development

"Speech minister Ploumen on international business and human rights", 19 April 2017

I’d like you to think about where the following quote comes from: ‘We will […] petition governments, alone or in concert with other actors, where we feel the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders with whom we are engaged have been impinged by the activities of the State.’...[It] comes from a statement by Adidas...Adidas is striving to be what I like to call a ‘corporate human rights defender’.

In the past few years, business and human rights have been at the core of my ‘aid and trade’ agenda...sustainable development without respect for human rights is an illusion...We were one of the first countries with a National Action Plan on business and human rights. Dutch companies should uphold the same high human rights standards wherever they operate...[W]e concluded groundbreaking agreements with the garment and banking sectors, and recently we added the vegetable protein and timber sectors to the list. These voluntary agreements enable companies to conduct proper due diligence, with the help of the government and civil society...That brings us to the next frontier of business and human rights: the concept of corporate human rights defenders. Let me offer a few examples of both the best and the worst of corporate human rights conduct...

Being a human rights defender is a dangerous business – many activists meet a fate worse than Andy Hall’s in Thailand, or Rafael Marques’ in Angola...In 2016 at least 281 people were killed worldwide, often for protesting peacefully against new business projects in their communities. All too often, companies are complicit in the persecution of these human rights defenders...Indeed, the business case for human rights is increasingly clear. Last month we saw the launch of the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark...With Dutch backing, the first steps have been taken towards the creation of a strong network of multinationals willing to collectively raise their voices in support of human rights defenders. This network is maintained by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Today, I am delighted to announce that ABN AMRO has become the first Dutch member of this network. And I expect many more to follow...

[also refers to S Group, Tiffany’s, IBM, General Electric, Nike, Unilever]