abusesaffiliationarrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upattack-typeburgerchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upClock iconclosedeletedevelopment-povertydiscriminationdollardownloademailenvironmentexternal-linkfacebookfiltergenderglobegroupshealthC4067174-3DD9-4B9E-AD64-284FDAAE6338@1xinformation-outlineinformationinstagraminvestment-trade-globalisationissueslabourlanguagesShapeCombined Shapeline, chart, up, arrow, graphLinkedInlocationmap-pinminusnewsorganisationotheroverviewpluspreviewArtboard 185profilerefreshIconnewssearchsecurityPathStock downStock steadyStock uptagticktooltiptwitteruniversalityweb

Diese Seite ist nicht auf Deutsch verfügbar und wird angezeigt auf English

Der Inhalt ist auch in den folgenden Sprachen verfügbar: English, español, français, 日本語, Português, Русский

People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023

"The repression that environmental activists who use peaceful civil disobedience are currently facing is a major threat to democracy and human rights. The environmental emergency that we are collectively facing, and that scientists have been documenting for decades, cannot be addressed if those raising the alarm and demanding action are criminalised for it. The only legitimate response to peaceful environmental activism and civil disobedience at this point is that the authorities, the media, and the public realise how essential it is for us all to listen to what environmental defenders have to say."

— Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention

In 2023 people across the globe took to the streets demanding governments protect their and future generations’ right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Scientific evidence shows humanity is exceeding most of the planetary boundaries within which we can develop and thrive for generations to come, driven by an economic paradigm grounded in profit maximisation and unsustainable resource extraction and consumption. The triple planetary crisis – climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss – threatens all our rights. Through engaging in direct action, protecting their lands and territories from fossil fuel projects, reporting about pollution and filing lawsuits against companies for environmental damage, human rights defenders (HRDs) continue to assert that true climate justice can only be achieved when human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Listening to HRDs is vital to understanding the risks and harms associated with business activity and to ensuring the transition to green economies is just and benefits workers, environmental defenders and their communities.

Despite this, in 2023 the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (the Resource Centre) recorded 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms. This is part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015.

Companies and investors have a responsibility to respect human rights, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the potential to create significant positive impacts for society by putting people and nature before profit. Some companies are already demonstrating this is possible by building projects which centre fair negotiations, shared prosperity and respect for human rights. There has also been an increasing focus on the protection of HRDs and open civic space by some governments and companies, driven by years of civil society advocacy. Unfortunately, this is the exception. Many business actors are failing in their responsibility to respect human rights, resulting in harm to people and planet. For some business actors, this includes wielding their power to undermine and attack those speaking out about corporate harm and to curtail the exercise of civic freedoms (freedom of expression, association and assembly).

The scale of attacks shows corporate voluntary action to protect human rights alone is failing and states need to urgently pass robust mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation. They must also enact and implement legislation recognising the right to safely defend rights and the vital role of HRDs in realising a just and sustainable future.

Between January 2015 and December 2023, the Resource Centre documented over 5,300 attacks globally against HRDs challenging corporate harm.

In 2023 alone, we identified 630 attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people. Over three quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people taking action to protect the climate, environmental and land rights. Many of these attacks were perpetrated by State actors.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Our research is based on publicly available information and because many attacks, especially non-lethal attacks (including death threats, judicial harassment and physical violence), never make it to media sources and there remains a significant gap in government monitoring of attacks, the problem is even more severe than these figures indicate. In addition, an “attack” may be against one person named in public sources or against a large number of unidentified people, such as an instance of charges being filed against 11,000 garment workers protesting for higher wages in Bangladesh. Thus, the number of individual HRDs experiencing attacks is higher than the number of attacks mentioned here. These attacks can also affect HRDs’ physical safety and mental, emotional and economic well-being. Moreover, attacks on HRDs have a broader effect – causing harm to HRDs’ families, their communities and resistance movements. They can also have a chilling effect on the defence of human rights more broadly. Learn more about our research methodology.

Global picture

Latin America and the Caribbean saw the highest number of attacks in 2023: 41% of the global total (258 attacks). Almost a third (30% or 195 attacks) took place in Asia and the Pacific.

The countries which saw the highest numbers of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 were Brazil (68), India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), Colombia (22), Indonesia (18), Uganda (18), France (16) and the United Kingdom (15).

Types of attacks

Attacks against HRDs also represent a direct attack on civic space and an assault on the fundamental freedoms that underpin a sustainable, inclusive and peaceful society. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies and indicator 16.10.1, which records killings and attacks on HRDs, is the primary indicator of global enjoyment of these fundamental freedoms in the SDG framework. Despite this, of the 162 countries that have submitted Voluntary National Reviews reporting on progress towards the SDGs since 2015, only three – fewer than 2% – indicated at least one HRD had been killed or attacked. Seven countries reported zero cases and 94% of countries did not report at all.


In contrast, in 2023 alone the Resource Centre documented 87 killings of HRDs speaking out against corporate harm. We commemorate the lives, courage and vital work of these HRDs. The attacks against them should be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Unfortunately, most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal – against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fuelling further attacks.

Top five most frequently recorded types of attacks

“Can you imagine if all of us who defend the Amazon leave, if in the end we withdraw from the denunciations out of fear; what will become of the rest? They will be left at the mercy of loggers and drug trafficking, so it is not as easy as saying I’m leaving.”

– Quinto Inuma Alvarado, Mongabay 2022

Quinto Inuma Alvarado was a well-known Kichwa HRD from Peru and leader in the Santa Rosillo de Yanayaku community. He participated in national and international fora representing his community, sharing information about threats to Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon and advocating for effective measures for the protection of human rights. He and community members of Santa Rosillo de Yanayaku have experienced attacks since 2017 for opposing illegal business activity and deforestation in their territory, including beatings, kidnapping and death threats. 

Quinto Inuma, 2019

Vicki Brown, FPP

Quinto sought protection from the Ombudsman’s Office, the Congress of the Republic, and helped to bring the case of the community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. He was one of the first HRDs in Peru to activate the Ministry of Justice’s early warning mechanism under its Protocol for the Protection of HRDs and later the Intersectorial Mechanism, but their measures were insufficient. He also sought action from the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Environmental Matters (FEMA) and the Anti-Drugs Prosecutor’s Office. However, prosecutorial proceedings scarcely progressed and were delayed and postponed more than a dozen times due to alleged lack of resources and police reporting that Santa Rosillo de Yanayaku was too dangerous for them to travel to.

Quinto Inuma, Peru

Santa Rosillo de Yanayaku

On 29 November 2023, Quinto was killed by hooded men while returning from a seminar for environmental defenders in Ucayali. His killing highlights the severe risks faced by Indigenous defenders, the urgent need for stronger protection measures, and immediate action to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon, including their rights to self-determination, land, and free, prior and informed consent, which his colleagues have raised at COP28 and in other international fora. On 4 February, members of the criminal organisation “Los chacales de Santa Rosillo”, including two local authorities, were arrested as suspects in Quinto’s murder. There are also several criminal proceedings underway against the detainees for favouring illicit drug trafficking and the destruction of forests through illegal logging. Wood procured through illegal logging often ends up in company supply chains; an estimated 15-30% of all wood traded globally is procured illegally.  

“We are asking for life imprisonment. No one will be able to remedy this. A family has been left broken and homeless. If the State had acted in time, my father would not be dead… We will continue the legacy that my father always wanted, because the things that my father has always fought for were never for personal benefit, it is the benefit for his entire population, and at a global level, which is defending the forests, his lands, there are more than 23 thousand hectares for which he fought so that they are not deforested…” - Kevin Inuma, Quinto’s eldest son, in infobae.

Non-lethal attacks

Non-lethal attacks, including intimidation, threats, surveillance, smear campaigns and judicial harassment, are often precursors to killings – which is why it is vital States collect data on attacks against HRDs and strengthen their protection mechanisms. Non-lethal attacks are used to intimidate HRDs, their families and communities, stop their human rights work, and can have a broader chilling effect on human rights defence and a negative impact on social fabrics within communities.

The Resource Centre has tracked 4,436 non-lethal attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm since 2015 in 137 countries – plus we know this is the tip of the iceberg. In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38) and others.

Repression of public protest and civil disobedience

Governments are cracking down on the right to protest across the globe – from attacks on garment workers protesting for a living wage in Bangladesh to people taking action in support of Palestinian rights. Many States are adopting new laws restricting freedom of assembly and using existing ones to repress climate activism. Almost a third of the world’s population now lives in countries with closed civic space and just 2% of the world’s population enjoys the freedom to associate, demonstrate and express dissent without significant constraints, down from almost 4% five years ago.

People across the globe, often led by youth activists, are using a diverse range of strategies to persuade governments to urgently fulfil their duty to protect the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; including direct action and civil disobedience. Engaging in civil disobedience – acts of deliberate law-breaking concerning matters of public interest conducted publicly and non-violently such as blocking roads and traffic, occupying government officials’ offices, and physically attaching oneself to company equipment – is a form of exercising the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly guaranteed by articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Respect for these rights is essential for a just transition to green economies. Consultations prior to commencing business operations are often poor and insufficient, with protest becoming one of the only avenues to highlight risks and harms associated with those projects. Understanding these human rights and environmental risks is vital for mitigating harm and ensuring the transition is both fast and just.

Mamunur Rashid via Shutterstock (licensed)

In 2023, we recorded numerous instances of attacks against people engaged in civil disobedience to urge climate action, including arrests of Indigenous defenders opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Canada (comments from TC Energy are available here), arrests of dozens of people protesting coal production in Australia, and judicial harassment of activists protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the USA (a response from Mountain Valley Pipeline is available here).

In his latest report, published in February 2024, the UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, Michel Forst, identified a trend of repression and criminalisation of peaceful environmental protest and civil disobedience – specifically across the EU, spanning the media and political discourse, legislation and policy, law enforcement and the courts, which he says is a major threat to democracy and human rights.

On 23 October 2023, at least 30 activists were arrested following protests following the National Assembly's approval of a contract for copper exploitation in Central America's largest open-pit copper mine, operated by Minera Panama, a subsidiary of Canada's First Quantum Minerals, in view of the declaration of unconstitutionality of the previous contract. At the beginning of 2024, 21 of those arrested were charged with terrorism

Protest against copper mining in Panama, 2023

Carolina Soto Ramos, Shutterstock (licensed)

Since the start of the protests in October 2023, several people have been injured, including journalist and activist Aubrey Baxter, who lost an eye due to excessive use of force by the police. On 1 November 2023, Diógenes Sánchez, a member of the Panamanian Teachers' Association (Asoprof), was arrested by police following his active participation in the protests. On 7 November, Abdiel Díaz and Iván Rodríguez were shot and killed by a gunman. The Resource Centre invited Minera Panama and First Quantum Minerals to respond; they did not.

Sector overview

Attacks against HRDs occur in relation to almost every business sector in every region of the world. Since we began tracking attacks against HRDs in January 2015, the sectors connected with the highest number of attacks – mining (1,475), agribusiness (984) and oil, gas and coal (491) – are those fuelling the planetary crisis and which have significant influence on whether the energy transition will be just, given their roles in transition minerals mining and investment in renewable energy. This was again the case in 2023, with mining connected to 165 attacks, agribusiness to 117, and oil, gas and coal to 112.

As public information related to business connections with attacks is limited and many attacks go undocumented, the number of attacks connected with these sectors is likely higher.

Transition mineral mining

The International Energy Agency projections point to a six-fold increase in demand for transition minerals by 2040 to underpin the global shift to clean energy technologies, so there is a particularly urgent need for mining companies to adopt and implement public policy commitments to not tolerate, nor contribute to, attacks against HRDs. In addition, mining companies need to fully respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights, as over half of the world’s resource base for crucial energy transition materials is located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

Indigenous Peoples are also among those first affected by the climate crisis and comprise a large proportion of the rural poor with no access to energy. They are championing a transition to renewable energy which respects human rights, including inclusion of their rights to self-determination; lands, territories and resources; and right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), including their right to define the process by which FPIC is achieved and to say no.

FPIC is not merely a stakeholder engagement or consultation process, as is the current common industry practice, but is instead an expression of Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, in accordance with their own procedures. It is a safeguard recognised by international law, aimed to ensure the realisation of their rights, including to their cultural identity, lands, territories and resources.

The Resource Centre’s Transition Minerals Tracker illustrates how the world’s biggest producers of some of the key minerals needed for the zero-carbon transition are failing to address risks and impacts on local communities, including attacks on civil society organisations and their leaders.  With impacts of the global climate crisis multiplying, particularly for Indigenous and other marginalised communities, it is crucial the energy transition does not come at their expense.

Bauxite is one of these key minerals. It is a primary source for aluminium, a key component in various clean technologies essential for achieving the energy transition. This includes increased utilisation by the transport sector for the production of hybrid and electric cars, and by the energy sector for the development of photovoltaic energy, for which aluminium accounts for 85% of its components.

Aluminium demand is projected to double by 2050. Bauxite reserves and resources have the highest degree of overlap (94%) with Indigenous and/or peasant land. In addition, approx. 44% of the world’s bauxite reserves are located in states categorised as fragile or very fragile, with 68% of these states perceived as corrupt or very corrupt. Bauxite mining also contributes to environmental degradation, with current operations accounting for 2% out of the 10% that the mining sector contributes to global emissions. These factors underscore the pressing need to identify and mitigate human rights and environmental risks associated with bauxite extraction.  Respect for human rights, recognition of hosting communities as equal partners and commitment by the Global North to curb demand for transition minerals should be reflected in policymaking, investment decisions and operational approaches.

India is the sixth largest producer of bauxite in the world, accounting for approximately 6% of global production. Bauxite is mined in several states in India, including Odisha. Indigenous communities have been opposing bauxite mining projects in Odisha for many years, raising concerns about human rights and environmental risks related to proposed projects by Vedanta Resources, Adani Group, and Hindalco Industries Limited. The Resource Centre invited these companies to respond; they denied the allegations.

One community-led organisation resisting bauxite mining is Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (NSS). In August 2023, Krushna Sikaka and Bari Sikaka from NSS were abducted by the police and nine other members of the organisation were accused of unlawful assembly for protesting the abduction of their colleagues. These defenders are Ladda Sikaka, Drenju Krushka, Manu Sikaka, Samba Huikia, Lingaraj Azad, Gobinda Bag, Upendra Bag, British Naik and Lenin Kumar.  On 16 August 2023 three other members of NSS, Dhanful Majhi, Sitaram Majhi and Anil Nayak, were also arrested.

In addition, on 16 October 2023, the Odisha Government held a public hearing related to the Sijimali bauxite mining project proposed by Vedanta Resources. On the way to the hearing, several women from Banteji village who were protesting the project were beaten by police. During the hearing, Dibakar Sahu and Jitender Majhi, who had been openly critical about the mining project, were arrested. Civil society organisations have said the project is likely to displace 100 families from 18 villages and affect the livelihoods of an additional 500 families. The Resource Centre invited Vedanta Resources to respond in November 2023; the response is available here. In May 2024, Vedanta Resources sent an additional response for this report; it is available here

Restrictions for HRDs related to key climate initiatives

COP climate summits and JET partnerships require open space for exchange and HRD protections, with Indigenous Peoples playing critical roles in ensuring a fast and fair transition.

Nega Pataxo

COP & restrictions on civic space

Nega Pataxo

COP & restrictions on civic space

A concerning trend over recent years has been the selection of host countries for the Conference of the Parties (COP) climate summits where civic space is under severe threat. If HRDs are not safe to protest and raise concerns, these summits risk silencing voices and solutions crucial to advancing climate justice, the just transition and corporate responsibility for climate impacts.

In December 2024, COP29 will be hosted by Azerbaijan, a country rated as “closed” (scoring 16/100) by Civicus with respect to civic space. In 2022, the Human Rights and Business award went to Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO) in Azerbaijan, which defends the rights of oil and gas industry workers and seeks public monitoring of large-scale oil and gas projects in a particularly challenging context. Over the past decade, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations have expressed serious concern about restrictions on HRDs working on business and human rights issues and persecution and harassment of civil society.

In 2023, we recorded 13 cases of attacks against HRDs in Azerbaijan, including eight related to Anglo Asian Mining PLC’s Gedabeck Mine, which produces copper and zinc – two key transition minerals. The Resource Centre invited Anglo Asian Mining to respond; it did not.

COP30 will be held in Brazil, the most dangerous country in 2022 and 2023 for HRDs speaking out against corporate harm. During its first year, the administration led by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has made important progress in the protection of the Amazon, women’s rights and other rights. However, former President Bolsonaro's legacy of polarisation, anti-environmental and anti-Indigenous stance, which led to a surge in deforestation and attacks on Indigenous Peoples doubling during his rule, is a tough challenge for the new government to overcome. A positive sign from 2023 was the establishment of the Ministry for Indigenous Peoples, led by Sonia Guajajara, who set up a crisis cabinet to monitor land conflicts in the south of Bahia.

However, the Lula administration’s commitments to protect biodiversity and reduce deforestation will only succeed if the rights of Indigenous and environmental defenders in Brazil are protected and their leadership is respected.

Throughout 2023, we registered attacks against the Pataxó and Pataxó Hã-hã-hãe Indigenous communities in the south of Bahia. Individuals affiliated with organised crime, landowners and rancher (often supported by the police or armed forces) have encroached upon the Pataxó Hã-hã-hãe Indigenous community’s land to use it for agribusiness projects. Large-scale landowners from the Agro-industrial sector, who are known for dismantling land occupations without judicial backing in the region, have formed a group called Zero Invasion, which is currently under investigation for acting as a rural militia in perpetrating attacks. In January 2024, spiritual leader Maria Fátima Muniz de Andrade, known as “Nega Pataxó”, was murdered during one of their attempts at an illegal land takeover.

On 30 May 2023, six pick-up trucks and a lorry arrived in an area recently retaken by the Pataxó people in the Indigenous territory of Barra Velha and opened fire on the community. One man was shot in the back. The Barra Velha Indigenous territory is made up of several villages of the Pataxó people and has suffered intense conflicts since the early 2000s. It was in this same territory that Indigenous defenders, Samuel Cristiano do Amor Divino and Nawy Brito de Jesus, were murdered in January 2023. 

Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition conference 2024 - Sonia Guajajara

Rights violations & criminalisation of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition conference 2024 - Sonia Guajajara

Rights violations & criminalisation of Indigenous Peoples

“Indigenous Peoples are vital actors in climate solutions. Responses to the climate crisis should be based on partnership with Indigenous Peoples as stewards of nature and protectors of our biodiversity. We must stop the criminalisation of Indigenous Peoples and respect their collective and individual rights.” - Joan Carling, Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI)

In 2023, over a fifth of attacks (22%) were against Indigenous defenders, who are protecting over 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, although they comprise approximately 6% of the global population. Over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks took place in Latin America.

Since January 2015, we have documented more than 1,000 attacks against Indigenous defenders globally, 93% of whom were raising concerns about harms to their lands and territories, our climate and/or the environment. As documented in our 2022 briefing with IPRI, some projects enacted with the aim of mitigating climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including renewable energy projects, transition mineral mining, and conservation initiatives –  are threatening the rights and safety of Indigenous Peoples, including their collective rights to land, territories and resources, food, water, FPIC, cultural traditions and customs and their right to defend rights.

Drawing upon thousands of years of expertise in environmental stewardship, Indigenous Peoples are vital leaders in the fight to protect our planet. They are also among the first groups to experience the direct consequences of climate change, despite having contributed very little to its causes. Businesses must respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination and to exercise FPIC as defined by them, which includes the right to say no. States must enact and implement laws protecting the specific rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.

Some Indigenous and rural communities, progressive companies and investors, with the support of governments, are already demonstrating it is not only possible, but advantageous, to build renewable energy projects that deliver shared prosperity and recognise Indigenous leadership. These designs hold the promise of the ‘Triple Win’: where communities and workers gain decent livelihoods, long-term revenue streams, environmental protection and control over the projects within their communities. Meanwhile, investors and companies gain stable and conducive investment environments – and our planet gains rapid transition action towards re-establishing a stable climate. Indigenous communities are often leading the way in these models – especially in countries where their land rights are more safeguarded.

For example, Neqotkuk First Nation in eastern Canada owns a 51% share in the Wocawson Energy Project with Natural Forces (49%), a renewable energy company that has grown its business by partnering with Indigenous communities on solar and wind projects. The project generated over US$400,000 for the community in the first year, set to double in the next. The revenue has been spent in part on community infrastructure, especially housing, to reduce over-crowding. Increased commitment to supporting human-rights based co-ownership/equity models is needed from companies, investors and governments, as it represents an opportunity to reimagine the energy sector based on justice and equity.

EV supply chains 2023

Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JET-P)

EV supply chains 2023

Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JET-P)

The Just Energy Transition Partnership funding model (JET-P) – announced at COP26 in Glasgow – provides multi-billion-dollar funding to support heavily coal-dependent emerging economies to transition to cleaner energy sources. The first three partnerships were with South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Financing to support a full transition from coal to renewable energies is vital to mitigating the climate crisis. It is also essential for this transition to be rights-respecting and for these governments to ensure the rights of HRDs are protected. Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries for HRDs raising concerns about business-related harms, particularly related to palm oil and mining projects. As one example, the O’Hongana Manyawa Indigenous Peoples are struggling to defend their customary territories from nickel mining on Halmahera Island in North Maluku province of Indonesia. Nickel mining activities of PT Weda Bay Nickel have affected huge areas of rainforest in Halmahera, home to O’Hongana Manyawa clans, some of whom remain in voluntary isolation. Mining in their lands is illegal under international law as Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact cannot give FPIC. A recent report by Climate Rights International (CRI), based on interviews with people living near nickel mining and smelting operations, describes serious threats to their land rights, rights to practice their traditional ways of life, right to access clean water, and right to health due to the mining and smelting activities. In addition, community members who refused to sell their land or raised concerns about harms related to the project reported experiencing intimidation, threats and retaliation by police and company representatives. CRI reached out to companies mentioned in the report; some responses can be found in Appendix 1. The Resource Centre contacted companies that did not respond to CRI; only POSCO submitted a response.

In December 2022 the Vietnamese Government entered into a $15.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with the UK, US and other G7 countries. Yet, in recent years, the Vietnamese Government has ramped up the targeting and criminalisation of people raising environmental concerns. Given the significant restrictions on civic space in Vietnam, it is difficult to access public information about the scale of attacks. However, since 2021, the Government has weaponised ambiguous laws to detain and imprison six climate leaders and experts and target environmental organisations, forcing many to close. The individuals detained and imprisoned include Ms. Nguy Thi Khanh, who served 16 months behind bars after working to reduce the Government’s coal expansion plans and researching solar solutions; prominent environmental lawyer, Mr. Dang Dinh Bach, who is serving a five-year sentence after dedicating his life to protecting communities from harmful pollution, phasing out plastic waste and supporting the transition to clean energy; Obama Foundation Scholar Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong, who is serving three years in prison after founding and leading the environmental group CHANGE Vietnam, which was dedicated to clean energy and wildlife conservation solutions. Most recently, in September 2023, Ms. Ngo Thi To Nhien Executive Director of Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition Social Enterprise (VIETse), was arrested on charges of “appropriation of information or documents” and is currently in pre-trial detention.

For the JET-Ps to be successful, civil society must be able to monitor human rights and environmental risks associated with business projects and freely engage in realising a just energy transition.

Many attacks involve collusion between state, private sector and other non-state actors, such as organised crime, occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity. This often makes it difficult to identify perpetrators.

In 2023, direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and the judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. However, this does not mean companies were not involved in attacks. In all 630 instances of attacks documented in 2023, HRDs were raising concerns about business-related actual or projected harms. A specific business was mentioned in 50% of cases.

In addition, companies are aware – or should be aware – that critics of their business or industry are at risk and should work to prevent and mitigate these attacks. If business actors are causing or contributing to human rights abuse affecting HRDs, their responsibility is clear-cut: end the abuse – and address and remedy any harm. Even in cases where there are no apparent direct links between companies or investors and attacks, business actors with operations, supply chains, business relationships and/or investments are expected to proactively use their leverage to promote respect for the rights of HRDs and civic freedoms. In addition, restrictions on civic freedoms signal riskier contexts for investment and economic activity and create an “information black box” for companies and investors, making it more difficult to engage in robust human rights due diligence.

Private sector actors

Companies are often connected with attacks on HRDs, even when state actors are the direct perpetrator. This includes calling police or state security forces to disperse peaceful protests; cooperating with state repression, for example by providing services or products enabling surveillance; and obstructing unionisation. Other tactics used by companies to gain control over land and resources, often leading to conflict and attacks, include dividing communities and engaging in inadequate consultation processes.

Corporate capture – when business actors use their political clout to influence the decision-making of states for their benefit – is also widespread across the globe. This can include lobbying against environmental protection regulation, drafting legislation privately with lawmakers to limit the right to protest, and exploiting governance gaps for corporate benefit, among other actions.

In addition, private sector actors can abuse judicial systems for their benefit, which is the case with strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). In 2023, we identified 38 lawsuits that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs.

In June 2023, Lithium Nevada Corporation (part of Lithium Americas) brought a lawsuit against seven people and environmental organisation Protect Thacker Pass, seeking to ban them from the construction sites of the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Nevada, USA. The lawsuit also seeks millions of dollars in damages.

Peehee Muhuh / Thacker Pass USA
Peehee Muhuh / Thacker Pass

The defendants include Dean Barlese, respected elder and spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Dorece Sam from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu (Te-Moak Shoshone and Washoe), Bethany Sam from the Standing Rock Sioux and Kutzadika’a Paiute Tribes, Founding Director of Community Rights US Paul Cienfuegos, and Max Wilbert and Will Falk of Protect Thacker Pass. They have protested the mine as the region is considered sacred by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and the Burns Paiute Tribe. The case references instances of non-violent prayer and protest on 25 April 2023, and the establishment of a prayer camp at Thacker Pass that was raided and dismantled by police on 8 June 2023. The company has been granted a temporary restraining order, which restricts the defendants and “any third party acting in concert” from interfering with construction, blocking access roads, or even being in the area. The Resource Centre invited Lithium Americas to respond; the response is available here.

State-owned and controlled enterprises

State-owned and controlled enterprises are also frequent violators of human rights, despite the state’s duty to protect human rights and their additional control over these enterprises’ operations.The UNGPs clearly outline states should “take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the state, or that receive substantial support and services from state agencies such as export credit agencies and official investment insurance or guarantee agencies, including, where appropriate, by requiring human rights due diligence”. In 2023, the company connected with the highest number of attacks was state-owned - State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (SIPCOT). The Resource Centre invited SIPCOT to respond; it did not.

The Transisthmic Corridor project is a Mexican government initiative that plans to unite the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific coast as an alternative to the Panama Canal. The project includes the development of a commercial-industrial corridor between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, the construction of commercial ports, a network of primary and secondary roads, digital connectivity networks, a gas pipeline, as well as ten industrial parks, involving the participation of state-owned and private companies. These projects pose a risk to the livelihoods of the 12 Indigenous communities living in the area, as well as to the preservation of their territory and environment. The Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthums (Ucizoni) is a civil society organisation that supports communities impacted by ongoing construction of the project in the Isthmus region of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus (Ucizoni), Mexico


In March 2023, the police attacked a Ucizoni protest camp, which had been blocking the Mogoñe Viejo-Vixidu railway line for 24 days. Following the attack, 11 community members received notifications they were being criminally investigated, and on 28 April, six of those community members, Maria Magdalena Martinez Isabel, Esperanza Martinez Isabel, Elizabeth Martinez Isabel, Eliodoro Martinez Isabel, Fernando Hernández Gomez and Adela Severo Teodoro, were arrested. In the same month, Carlos Beas, the director of the organisation, received death threats. In August 2023, Ucizoni reported a "harassing and intimidating presence" by the Union's offices and at the home of its coordinator, Carlos Beas, as well as the arbitrary detention of Juana Inés Ramírez.

Advances in legislation, voluntary commitments and principles

In 2024 to date, the most significant positive development related to business and HRDs has been the approval of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive by European Union (EU) members States and the European Parliament. Following a decade of civil society advocacy, this landmark binding legislation requires companies in the EU to assess, prevent and address human rights and environmental impacts in their global value chains. The final text (particularly in the recitals) includes language on HRDs, the Declaration on HRDs and mentions them as stakeholders whose rights or interests could be affected by corporate activity. This signals that the protection of HRDs, and consultation with them, is a vital part of human rights and environmental due diligence.

Another vital binding instrument that was adopted in recent years is the Escazú Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean, which entered into force in April 2021. It is the world’s first legally binding instrument to include specific provisions on environmental rights defenders, requiring governments provide safe and enabling conditions for HRDs and ensure those responsible for attacks against them are investigated and prosecuted.

Additional key developments in 2023 and 2024 to date include:

  • Update of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, which now call on enterprises to refrain from reprisals against HRDs, address harms of attacks in their own and business partners’ operations and help promote safe spaces. The updates also include an expectation on enterprises to identify and address their adverse impacts on climate change, animal welfare, biodiversity, deforestation, pollution and other environmental concerns.
  • Development of indicators by International Service for Human Rights that provides guidance on what is required to monitor the implementation of the responsibility of business to respect the rights of HRDs. These indicators build upon the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights’ landmark 2021 Guidance on ensuring respect for human rights defenders and the Resource Centre and ISHR’s ‘Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, Guidance for Companies,’ released in 2018.
  • Appointment of former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst as the first-ever Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, which protects the right to live in a healthy environment in the EU. This is the first such mechanism specifically safeguarding environmental defenders to be established within a legally binding framework, either under a UN system or other intergovernmental structure.
  • Publication of a report in March 2024 by David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, evaluating the inadequacies of voluntary normative frameworks for ensuring businesses respect human rights and clarifying State obligations to protect the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment from harms caused by businesses.
  • Upcoming Advisory Opinion on Climate Change by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights through which the Court may develop standards for States to safeguard HRDs in the context of harmful business operations connected to the climate crisis (the Resource Centre’s public comments on the opinion are available here).
  • Release of a Declaration drafted by 87 Indigenous Peoples' representatives participating in the Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition in April 2024, which sets out core principles for an energy transition that upholds human rights, social equity, cultural integrity, inclusivity, full and effective participation and shared prosperity of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Release of joint guidance for online platforms by the USA and the EU, which sets out ten practical steps platforms can take globally to prevent, mitigate and provide remedy for attacks targeting HRDs online.
  • On 31 January 2024, members of the US Congress introduced legislation to strengthen the US Government's protections for human rights defenders globally.
  • Release of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights’ (VPs) Guidance on Respecting the Rights of Human Rights Defenders in 2023, which recommends extractive, agribusiness and other companies implementing the VPs develop, disclose and implement a zero-tolerance policy for threats and attacks against HRDs; integrate HRDs into their VPs risk assessment and human rights due diligence; and consult with HRDs, among other actions. The Guidance also notes the Voluntary Principles Initiative (VPI) has a responsibility to support HRDs and an opportunity to advocate for rule of law, accountable governance and civic freedoms upon which companies and civil society alike depend.
  • Release of Unilever’s Principles in Support of Human Rights Defenders and implementation guidance in September 2023 – the most detailed company policy commitment to date in support of HRDs and the only one to include guidance on how to implement that commitment.

While the release of Unilever’s policy and implementation guidelines and the VPI guidance are important steps toward additional policy commitments by business actors not to tolerate attacks on HRDs, most companies are failing to reach the bare minimum requirements. The Resource Centre’s policy tracker – which examines publicly available policy commitments in support of HRDs based on assessments by the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) – found only 46/260 companies assessed by CHRB have publicly committed to not tolerate or contribute to attacks against HRDs. Only nine companies met all three CHRB criteria: commit not to tolerate nor contribute to attacks, expect the same in their business relationships, and actively engage HRDs to create enabling environments. And only five mining companies have policy commitments to not tolerate or contribute to attacks on HRDs, and expect their business relationships to do the same, despite the highest number of attacks being related to this sector. No mining company meets all three CHRB indicators, which is highly concerning given mining is connected with the highest number of attacks on HRDs each year.

States, companies & investors

The scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms shows the failure of governments to protect human rights – and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm. We call on States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

states icon 2

Recommendations for States

states icon 2

Recommendations for States

Recommendations for States:

  • Pass and implement legislation recognising the right to defend rights and the vital role of HRDs in promoting human rights, sustainable development and a healthy environment, and committing to zero-tolerance for attacks (more detailed recommendations available here). This must include legal recognition of the specific rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Implement the Paris Agreement fully and accede to or, if already ratified, fully implement key international and regional standards protecting the civic freedoms of HRDs. This includes complying with international obligations related to civic freedoms in their response to peaceful protest and civil disobedience, and ceasing the use of measures designed for counterterrorism and organised crime against environmental defenders.
  • Pass national laws to implement the UNGPs, including mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, and consult with HRDs at all stages of this process. This legislation should mandate that business actors engage in ongoing safe and effective consultation with HRDs and other rightsholders potentially or directly affected, should be an integral part of climate mitigation and adaptation plans, and should be aligned with the UN working group’s guidance on defenders and other key standards mentioned above (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Collect and report data on non-lethal and lethal attacks to inform more effective protection mechanisms and pass anti-SLAPP legislation to prevent companies silencing HRDs (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Ensure effective remedy for violations when they occur, including by strengthening judicial systems to end impunity and holding businesses accountable for acts of retaliation against HRDs, and actively participating in investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks.
  • Actively and constructively engage in negotiations for the adoption of a binding UN treaty on business and human rights and ensure it explicitly recognises the risks HRDs face and their right to defend human rights.
company icon

Recommendations for companies

company icon

Recommendations for companies

Recommendations for companies:

  • Adopt and implement public policy commitments, accompanied by implementation guidance and plans, which recognises the valuable role of HRDs, reference specific risks to HRDs, ensures effective engagement and consultation with HRDs at all stages of the due diligence process, and commits to zero-tolerance for attacks throughout the company’s operations, supply chains and business relationships.
  • Engage in and report on the results of human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and ensure effective access to remedy for those harmed by business activity, in accordance with the UNGPs, the UN Working Group’s guidance on ensuring respect for HRDs, and the UN Working Group’s gender guidance.
  • Recognise Indigenous defenders are disproportionately at risk and create and implement public commitments to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights, grounded in their rights to self-determination (lands, territories, and resources), and right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), including their right to define the process by which FPIC is achieved and to withhold consent (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Publicly commit to remedy adverse impacts on HRDs it has caused or contributed to and to work with suppliers to remedy adverse impacts directly linked to its operations, products and services. This includes establishing and adequately resourcing safe, effective and accessible UNGP-aligned grievance and accountability mechanisms that include protections for HRDs and whistle-blowers, handle third party complaints and provide robust follow-up to address and provide redress for grievances.
  • Publicly recognise HRDs have a right to defend human rights and are essential allies in assisting businesses to adhere to their responsibilities under the UNGPs.
  • Refrain from any lobbying, political spending and other direct or indirect forms of political engagement to support limits on civic freedoms, or to weaken laws to hold companies accountable for human rights abuses and environmental destruction.
investors icon

Recommendations for investors

investors icon

Recommendations for investors

Recommendations for investors:

  • Publish a human rights policy which recognises the valuable role of HRDs in identifying risks associated with business activities and commits to a zero-tolerance approach to attacks against them. Clearly communicate the human rights expectations included in this policy to portfolio companies, including that companies:
    • disclose human rights and environment-related risks;
    • engage in ongoing consultation with communities, workers and HRDs;
    • have policies and processes to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights (including land rights and free, prior and informed consent);
    • respect the rights of HRDs; and
    • ensure effective access to remedy when harm occurs.
  • Undertake rigorous human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and review potential investees for any past involvement with retaliation. This includes consulting with rightsholders and not relying on company self-disclosure as to whether Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent was respected.
  • Avoid investing in companies with a history of human rights and environmental harms and retaliation against HRDs.
  • Use leverage with investee companies which cause, contribute to or are directly linked to human rights and environmental harms, including attacks on HRDs, so the company mitigates negative impacts and provides access to remedy to those affected.

Authors: Christen Dobson and Hannah Matthews

Additional Researchers: Ana Zbona, Lady Nancy Zuluaga Jaramillo, Vitória Dell’Aringa Rocha, Ella Skybenko, Vladyslava Kaplina, Valentina Muñoz Bernal, and Claudia Ignacio Alvarez

The Resource Centre also acknowledges the vital work of many HRDs, civil society organisations and journalists who are documenting and sharing information about the attacks that HRDs face. Our work would not be possible without them.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO which tracks the human rights impacts of over 10,000 companies in over 180 countries, making information available on our 10-language website. The Resource Centre’s Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders programme addresses the root causes of killings and violence against human rights and environmental defenders linked to company operations and global supply chains; advocates for rights-respecting practices and accountability among corporate actors; and increases rapid action and longer-term involvement of business actors in support of defenders and civic freedoms to prevent attacks against defenders so that they can safely champion human rights.

Further reading

Human rights defenders & business in 2022

People challenging corporate power to protect our planet: Our analysis of attacks against human rights defenders speaking out against business in 2022

Guardians at risk

Attacks against HRDs in Latin America and the Caribbean

Protector not prisoner

Rights violations & criminalisation of Indigenous Peoples in climate actions - a joint briefing with Indigenous Peoples Rights International

Human rights defenders & civic freedoms

Explore all our resources on HRDs and civic freedoms

HRDs database

Explore our database of attacks against business-related human rights defenders


Explore all our resources on Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)