At a glance: Our impact in 2020/21
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is fair, objective and data-driven. Our work with allies focuses on the rights of:
- Workers in global supply chains;
- Communities seeking responsible natural resource use and a just transition; and
- People to accountable digital technologies.
We act to amplify the voices of those facing abuse, especially human rights defenders and their communities, while promoting gender justice and corporate legal accountability.
To achieve this, we seek to increase transparency, build accountability, help strengthen movements, and influence decision-makers through partners and directly.
Our vision is a world where business respects human rights and provides redress for abuse, where people are leaders in shaping a rights-respecting and sustainable future for markets and business, and where shared prosperity through greater equality of power and wealth is enjoyed by all.
"It is essential that public and private companies be held accountable for the human rights abuses they commit. This report is just a summary of something that is happening on a large scale in Mexico and the world, and that has deepened during the pandemic. That is why it is urgent to put a stop to corporate impunity as soon as possible and for civil society and communities to remain vigilant and demand that rights be protected.” - Fernanda Hopenhaym, Member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights; Executive Co-Director, PODER (Mexico)
We work to strengthen partners, allies, and movements so that our collective work ensures businesses respect and advance human rights.
We build evidence to influence decision-makers in governments, investors and businesses towards effective laws, regulation and norms that transform exploitative business behaviour into a rights-respecting economic model.
We amplify and support the voices and work of partners, allies and movements to drive accountability for abuse.
"The [Renewable Energy Human Rights Benchmark] report is timely in the light of widespread human rights violations in the development and implementation of renewable energy projects. I hope this report will stir more attention and action by companies and investors on the need to respect and protect human rights in the just transition to renewable energy. Partnerships with Indigenous peoples along this line will finally become a turning point in the long history of land and resource grab." - Joan Carling, Co-convenor of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development
Our year in business and human rights
“We are happy the workers received at least some money to support their livelihoods,” a trade union President in Cambodia told us after, together, we achieved a payment to workers for unpaid wages from a European fashion brand. Amidst the tragedy of the pandemic, it was wonderful when our efforts paid off – quite literally – for women apparel workers who faced a crisis of hunger at home. Our engagement with fashion brands throughout the pandemic has persuaded or cajoled some to transform the initial gross mistreatment of supply chain workers. But many brands have returned quickly to their standard purchasing practices which sustain poverty wages, poor factory conditions, and the silencing of workers and their leaders.
And throughout the pandemic, the world continues to hurtle towards climate breakdown. Since 2014 the Resource Centre has been highlighting the urgent need for a fair and fast transition to clean energy. In 2020 we published the first-ever human rights benchmark of renewable energy companies. The scores were dreadful (average of 22%), but this has been a wake-up call to more responsible companies, and investors, regarding abuse faced by communities and workers in this industry. This abuse creates the risk that companies lose their social licence to operate, and engender protests, repression, suspension of projects, and rising costs. But most clean energy companies remain willing to run these risks in search of high returns on investment.
These examples illustrate why, in 2020, we have done more to help drive stronger government regulation – a ‘level playing field’ of minimum corporate standards of behaviour. Our work with allies has focused on government opportunities to insist companies assess their worst risks to workers, communities and environment, and take action to prevent them (due diligence). Otherwise, unscrupulous companies should face liability for their failure to prevent harm in operations and supply chains. We have amplified the voices of diverse allies across Europe, including welcome statements from responsible business and investors. And we have worked in Latin America, East Africa and Asia to promote this advance.
I would like to thank all our donors, supporters, allies and our Global Team for the immense contribution that all have made to our impact in the year.
Phil Bloomer Executive Director
Chris Jochnick, Chair of the Board
Navigating the pandemic
The pandemic interrupted organisational plans during 2020 and into 2021 – but for workers and communities around the world, it did more than that. It put a magnifying glass on the power imbalances fuelling corporate profits. It highlighted the price ordinary people pay as businesses chase profits at the expense of their human rights responsibilities and commitments.
The Resource Centre reacted swiftly - we engaged with partners, tracked corporate abuses and developed solutions-focused analysis to drive accountability and limit harm.
COVID-19 Apparel Action Tracker
The pandemic had devastating consequences for garment workers, driven by global brands which cancelled or simply didn’t pay suppliers for billions of dollars in orders, which left workers unpaid and destitute. We sought to shed light on how existing purchasing practices and historically unequal relationships between brands and suppliers led to such terrible outcomes for workers. In May 2020 we surveyed 35 fashion brands (26 responded) on the details of how they were responding to both their suppliers and workers during pandemic. It was the first time brands published information about their commercial practices. The research found nearly half (40%) of companies had not made a public commitment to pay for all completed orders. A fifth (23%) had demanded discounts on orders already agreed. We followed up with brands in November 2020, widening our focus to the top 50 fashion brands (34 responded). More than half (29) of the brands had recorded profits since the onset of the pandemic, and just three brands – all supermarkets – had specific pandemic policies on prices.
Company representatives were very interested in how their performance compared with others, and often discussed what they could do to change their performance on specific indicators. A number of companies changed their stance on fulfilling order payments and creating pandemic policies on price reductions and discounts after direct engagement from the Resource Centre among a number of other actors. Partner CSOs referred to our research in their advocacy work, which led us to publish two reports on union busting and wage theft case studies during the pandemic which ultimately led to many of these cases being resolved.
Worker-led action in Tunisia
We intervened to help convince the country office of an e-commerce multinational to reinstate 80 employees who had been dismissed unfairly during the early months of the pandemic. The trainee workers were laid off amid growing concerns about job insecurity and high rate of unemployment, particularly among young people, in Tunisia. Civil society activists and trade unions, including the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), called on Vistaprint Tunis to reinstate the workers and to comply with national laws which clearly consider unfair dismissal to be abusive. We complemented this by taking up the allegation and seeking a response from Cimpress, the Netherlands-based firm which owns Vistaprint.
Cimpress responded, explaining it had reversed its decision: “We’ve heard concerns from our team members and agree that more can be done to show support in Tunis... Following those discussions and after significant thoughts, we’ve reversed our decision and will be offering all affected team members the opportunity to return to their roles at Vistaprint effective immediately," - General Manager of Vistaprint Tunis.
Migrant worker voices in Brazil
With local partners, we surveyed 146 migrant workers in São Paulo’s fashion industry to highlight reports of poor working conditions during the pandemic and found nine in 10 had seen a drastic income reduction during the pandemic. We put a spotlight on the struggles of vulnerable supply chain workers, mostly Bolivian women (73%), during the pandemic. Brazilian media was shocked and covered the report extensively.
We called the attention of the São Paulo City Chamber, where we participated in a public hearing and also presented the findings of the report, Masking Misery, at a seminar with Latin American migrants. We will keep pushing these findings into the public eye to ensure their voices are heard and migrant workers’ rights are respected.
Forced labour in PPE supply chains
Ebos, the largest medical and personal protective equipment supplier to the healthcare market in New Zealand, stopped importing a brand of disposable gloves after the Resource Centre highlighted links with Top Glove, a huge Malaysian glove producer accused of using forced migrant labour.
By approaching Ebos and asking them to investigate their supply chain, the Resource Centre made further progress combatting labour exploitation by highlighting issues with supply chains in the region.
Strengthening partners, allies & movements
Human rights defenders
Between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, we published 83 stories concerning human rights defenders (HRDs) or strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), and we undertook 116 CRMs (obtaining 75 responses and 41 non-responses). We collected 640 attacks and 21 SLAPPs against human rights defenders related to business, many of which were connected to COVID-19.
Through this, we were one of the first organisations to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on HRDs, including land, environmental and labour rights defenders, through our own reports, webinars and via joint statements with partners. Our research showed an 8% increase in attacks since the start of the pandemic, pointing to opportunistic repression perpetrated by business, governments and other actors. One of our civil society partners stated in early 2021: “The BHRRC dataset and the company response mechanism have changed the landscape for land and environmental rights defenders, putting the issue firmly on the agenda and giving HRDs' work a massive source of legitimacy.”
In August 2020 the Hong Sen apparel factory in Cambodia closed after orders collapsed due to COVID-19. Workers left without owed wages went on strike. The Resource Centre working with partners CENTRAL found Hong Sen was a supplier for NEXT. We supported negotiations with workers and the CSOs which support them and sought a company response from NEXT.
NEXT responded and ultimately committed to providing financial support to 900 garment workers.
Supporting community action
In a sign of our Global Team's ability to achieve sustained and systemic changes in the way companies operate, 2020 saw the Resource Centre contribute to efforts by allies and local communities to improve Kenyan agri-business company Kakuzi’s approach to human rights.
Kakuzi is majority owned by UK-headquartered agri-business company Camellia PLC. Since 2017 we have worked alongside the Mugumo-ini village community, building constructive engagement with Kakuzi. In 2020, at the request of the company, we trained three cohorts of female security officers on how they can contribute to a human-rights sensitive environment internally and with the surrounding community. We have responded to requests to provide feedback with external consultants engaged to help design the company’s operational-level grievance mechanisms as well as the human rights impact assessment.
This is a landmark step for a company which has been implicated in a wide range of allegations of human rights abuses, including land grabs and abuse of protestors. We will continue to work with local communities and Kakuzi to monitor and help ensure the company implements a robust rights-respecting grievance mechanism as part of more effective human rights due diligence. There is still a long way to go, but the progress with Kakuzi exemplifies the value of our victim-focused and constructive engagement with companies.
Our team responded rapidly to the coup in Myanmar, consulting diverse allies and partners to define our ‘value-add’ to their own efforts. We reached out to military-linked companies to respond to allegations made against them, are monitoring the opposition of local and international business groups to the draft cyber-crime bill, and as of early May have reached out to 136 companies and business chambers investing in Myanmar because of their potential leverage to push for the protection of human rights and stability in the country.
- 26 companies shared their statements and commitments.
- We facilitated a discussion between business representatives and civil society leaders on immediate steps businesses should take to ensure respect for human rights.
- We amplified concerns raised by partners over human rights allegations linked to global companies.
- We are using responses to build a tracker of human rights diligence plans of those companies that decide to remain in Myanmar, and our call on brands to support their workers was featured in the Financial Times. Companies can learn best practice from each other, and be held to account when things go wrong.
Building knowledge & influencing decision-makers
Mandatory human rights & environmental due diligence
During FY 20/21 our researchers in Latin America and Europe focused on supporting civil society allies by tracking and actively facilitating business announcements in support of new laws to hold business to account for human rights abuses. BHRRC actively fostered the growing momentum worldwide for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD) among governments, businesses, investors and civil society.
With the support of the EU, through its Responsible Business Conduct project, implemented by the OEDC, the UN OHCHR and ILO, we hosted a series of workshops in Colombia, Brazil and Mexico joined by nearly 300 participants from civil society, business and government, designed to strengthen the capacities of governments, companies and civil society for the design and execution of smart regulation on business and human rights.
We facilitated mHREDD discussions, including impacts by renewable energy companies and environmental justice in support of the IAHRC, promoting regional spaces for reflection and dialogue. We drafted and shared supporting tools to a wide range of actors in the region to promote further dialogue and action.
"Building understanding and preparation for corporate human rights and environmental due diligence in Latin America", delivered by the Resource Centre with support from the CERALC Project
In 2020, the EU Commission committed to introducing such legislation at EU level, and cross-sectoral regulation is in place or under discussion in a number of European countries, including France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Germany. To coincide with the German presidency of the EU Council, BHRRC produced a compendium of reflections on these developments, supported by and in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). We approached diverse voices from academia, public sector, civil society and business, from the global South and North to contribute and explore what meaningful EU mandatory due diligence and corporate accountability legislation should look like.
The Resource Centre supported civil society allies by tracking and actively facilitating business announcements in support of legislation. Our team engaged with actors across the spectrum to foster an understanding of the urgency and importance of delivering effective mHREDD.
"The BHRRC has been an extremely useful source for our political battle in the European Parliament. Thank you for all the great work!" - Parliamentary assistant to Member of the European Parliament
Modern Slavery Registry
After five years collecting over 16,000 company statements in relation to the UK Modern Slavery Act, the Resource Centre closed its registry after succeeding in the advocacy ask for the UK Government to maintain a central registry of statements under the Act.
Our research into company modern slavery statements and analysis revealed the inherent failures of the UK Modern Slavery Act, which is not ensuring companies comply nor driving action to mitigate the risk of labour abuses. It provided evidence for the UK civil society campaign for new law on mandatory human rights due diligence in the UK. Our final report was lauded by many civil society groups for taking a strong position in calling for an end to voluntary reporting regulation, and instead for binding regulations. The UK Government is taking steps to strengthen the UK Modern Slavery Act after our research showed that despite persistent non-compliance by 40% of companies, no injunctions or administrative penalties have been issued to companies failing to report.
Launch of our Lawsuit Database
In December 2020, we launched the first ever global database of lawsuits brought against companies to redress human rights abuse, with over 200 cases from the past 12 years profiled.
Key lessons: Extractives companies face the largest number of lawsuits (45% of all cases profiled); affected community members and workers are leading the majority (80%) of our lawsuits profiled; and transnational litigation is an important strategy to pursue justice.
“This is phenomenal! Thank you so much for publishing -- and for posting to the ISL. Excellent work!” – Lawyer and Founder & Director of Legal Services NGO
““BIG congrats on the new/revamped lawsuits database launch last week! MUCH more user-friendly than the lists and portal you inherited – kudos!" – Funder
“Thank you and congratulations to BHRRC, amazing work, incredibly useful!” – Legal advocate at NGO
Transition Minerals Tracker
Our Transition Minerals Tracker, updated February 2021, tracks the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a net-zero carbon economy.
From 2010 to 2020 we recored 276 allegations of abuse linked to mining of six minerals essential for the energy transition: lithium, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese and nickel.
KnowTheChain ICT sector benchmark
Our in-depth analysis of forced labour in ICT supply chains for the KnowTheChain benchmark found most of the world’s largest information technology companies continue to leave supply chain workers at serious risk and that the sector is ill-prepared for the rising risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We put efforts into expanding its reach into the Japanese market due to the high number of Japanese companies achieving a low average score compared to peers in other regions and held webinars and undertook targeted media work.
The benchmark received strong media coverage in Japan through 10 articles, putting a spotlight on Japanese companies and their supply chains. We hosted webinars in Japanese for Japanese companies and investors to encourage engagement and spur investors to use KnowTheChain research and take a targeted approach to drive corporate action to end forced labour. Japanese investors said they have used information from the report in their engagement with companies.
In August 2020 we rebuilt our digital platform to include even more data on business and human rights, now in 10 languages.
Our dynamic online platform is an essential supporting tool to help us achieve impact. This year we invested, expanded and improved the website, establishing new ways to present our data and share the evidence and analysis that enables us to drive corporate accountability worldwide.
“I wanted to take a quick moment to tell you that I absolutely love the look and feel of the revamped site. I really look forward to the weekly digest – the coverage is pertinent and more importantly presented in a clear and digestible format. Kudos to you and the rest of the BHRRC team.” – Aditi Wanchoo, Global Lead on Modern Slavery, adidas
Driving accountability for abuse
Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark
Following extensive stakeholder consultation, the Resource Centre launched the first ever Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark for the 16 largest global wind and solar energy producers in June 2020. It helped to raise awareness about the human rights risks in the sector, and especially the impacts on communities and Indigenous peoples, while providing a roadmap toward more responsible policy and practice by companies.
The benchmark put the issue of human rights in the renewable energy sector on the map for many stakeholders for the first time. The report has been referenced by partner CSOs, companies and investors and is now part of global conversation human rights and renewable energy. It also contributed to the Resource Centre’s organisational goals of amplifying and supporting advocates, influencing company policy and government regulations, and strengthening corporate accountability. Our ability to demonstrate company support for our tools to the investor community highlights the vital role our work plays in building an informed and responsible sector.
“As investors addressing the climate crisis and engaging companies on the importance of shifting to a clean energy economy, we are increasingly focused on the need for a just transition. The Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark supplies the framework needed by investors to measure what respect for human rights and meaningful community engagement looks like for an industry critically important to the building of the new energy economy.” - Christina Herman, Climate Change Program Director, ICCR
BHRRC Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark Briefing
BHRRC Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark Briefing
BHRRC Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark Briefing
All at sea: Modern slavery in Pacific canned tuna supply chains
In March 2021 we published a briefing based on surveys of the human rights practices of 35 canned tuna brands and supermarkets sourcing from the Pacific, representing over 80 of the world’s largest canned tuna brands. Despite widespread evidence of forced labour, human trafficking and unsanitary working conditions onboard fishing vessels, we found only found paper-thin promises by brands to tackle modern slavery and protect human rights. While nearly half the companies surveyed recognised the pandemic had exacerbated modern slavery risks, only a quarter had taken any action in response.
Widespread media coverage of our analysis put the spotlight on brands to improve conditions and in a specific case, was used by human rights advocates in their engagement with the Thai Tuna Industry Association, plus leading tuna company members, to press for action to adopt an ethical migrant worker recruitment policy and eradicate payment of recruitment fees by workers.
Company Response Mechanism
Since 2005, BHRRC has invited companies to respond to allegations of misconduct raised by civil society when we find no evidence that they have otherwise responded to the concerns. This process encourages companies to publicly address human rights concerns and provides the public with both the allegations and the company’s comments in full. The following cases are examples of resolution, dialogue and increased transparency linked to company responses over the past year.
After monitoring human rights concerns around the activities of Russian mining firm Nornickel, the Resource Centre contacted the company and global chemical company BASF, whom Nornickel supplies, to urge them to deliver improved protections for Indigenous Peoples in Russia’s Far North.
Our work was commended by a partner CSO, Kritische Aktionaere (Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany):
"BHRRC has definitely made a difference: We have the public statement from BASF with information that was not included in previous communication with us (e.g. relating to audits), as well as the further reference to IRMA and the public statement that an end to the business relationship cannot be completely ruled out. This definitely gives us a little more pressure on Nornickel."
Tech is the new frontier for business and human rights. We monitor allegations against companies – like those against Canadian company Sandvine, owned by US private equity firm Francisco Partners, alleging it had supplied technology used by the Belarusian government to shut down internet and repress protests during its presidential election. The news prompted criticism from US Senators, human rights organisations, and Belarusians living in the US, among others.
We approached Sandvine with the allegation and sought a response. The company subsequently released a statement saying its own investigation found "custom code was developed and inserted into Sandvine’s products to thwart the free flow of information during the Belarus election. This is a human rights violation and it has triggered the automatic termination of our end user license agreement."
Photo: camilo jimenez, Unsplash
Last year thousands of workers and trade union leaders joined nationwide protests in Belarus demanding new elections and an end to police violence. Many were dismissed, detained and severely beaten. To prompt a reaction from the corporate sector, Belarusian activists reached out to a number of Western companies engaged with the Belarusian Government urging them to take immediate action. Most companies remained silent. To support the activists, we followed up with 43 of those companies asking them to respond to the concerns. 23 companies responded.
Since this engagement, one company, Michelin, has taken a number of concrete steps to investigate alleged abuses at the factory of its supplier BMZ, including raising concerns with the factory’s management and holding several related meetings including with the Ambassador of Belarus in France, with professional associations such as the European Association of Tire Makers (EATM), and with the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. An agreement was reached with the Belarus authorities for Michelin to conduct an independent external human rights audit at the factory where alleged abuses took place. The story about Michelin’s response to us and outreach to the factories was published by leading Belarusian media outlets, increasing pressure on both factories.
Our total expenditure increased by 8.6% to £3.3m.
Expenditure on our charitable activities increased by 10% or £274k in the year, to £3.13m.
We increased our staff capacity further as a result of renewed and fresh funding from several project specific funders. We continued to increase our staff capacity in communications, mainly through the C&A/Laudes Foundation grant, to further strengthen our global media coverage and social media presence. Our overall staff numbers increased considerably due to an increase in project staff numbers.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not travelled in the 20-21 fiscal year.
We invested in our website, the majority of enhancements funded by project grants, and new and replacement laptops were purchased throughout the year.
During the year, we continued to improve and enhance our internal financial management and control systems, utilising the Charity Commission’s CC8 checklist to perform a thorough evaluation of our performance against the legal requirements and good practice recommendations. During the current financial year we will strengthen common approaches to financial management among the group subsidiaries and increase the capability of our financial analysis for our different areas of work.
The COVID 19 pandemic was declared towards the end of our 2019-20 fiscal year. The Charity has considered the impact of COVID-19 and the ensuing economic shutdown in preparing these financial statements.
We aim to build our reserves to a minimum of three months’ operating support by the end our next financial year.