Onwards! Farewell remarks by Annabel Short
29 March 2017
Back in 2003 I was sitting on the top deck of the number 171 bus headed home to Camberwell in SE London. I looked through the job announcements in the Guardian newspaper. One caught my eye: “Researcher & Data Coordinator, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.”
Not the most glamorous of job titles! But I was immediately struck by the idea of connecting human rights - which at one level aim to curb abuses of power by the state - to the growing power of the private sector.
That idea has kept me at the Resource Centre for thirteen years, and I still find it incredibly inspiring, challenging, and relevant today.
I’ve been privileged to be at the heart of this unique organization as it has grown: from the early days, pre-office, sitting around the table in the Barbican apartment of the Resource Centre’s inspirational founder Chris Avery, to the dynamic global organization it is today, now under the leadership of Phil Bloomer who became Executive Director in 2013.
For me, the Resource Centre is unique in two ways, its model and its people.
At its core, the model involves escalating local human rights issues – such as the violent crack-down of a worker protest at a factory, or a polluted drinking water supply – to the attention of those within business who can, and must, make a difference in how they go about their operations.
It has proven to be endlessly creative.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that the Resource Centre moves at speed, identifying urgent human rights issues, strategizing with partners, and quickly launching approaches to address them. We have sought and obtained thousands of public responses from companies headquartered in all regions – from China, to the US, to Brazil – to allegations raised by civil society organizations.
In recent years we have evolved our strategy to spotlight human rights in emerging contexts and key sectors. These include new investments in Myanmar and Iran; the business response to the refugee crisis; the exploitation of migrant workers in the construction industry; and the need for the rapidly expanding renewable energy sector to respect human rights in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
We are working with local groups in many ways, from the documentation of cases, to collective efforts to protect human rights defenders at risk.
When companies take proactive steps, we ensure those cases of better practice are readily available so that other firms can follow suit. It’s encouraging to see examples of companies in all regions recognizing that respecting human rights will help ensure their long-term sustainability, as well as being the right thing to do.
Through its birds-eye view of the field, the Centre is a “Resource” in all kinds of ways: not just online but also through its phenomenal team.
Something that characterizes all the Resource Centre staff is an openness to being as useful and effective as possible for the wider movement – whatever strategies that may take – rather than being in this for themselves. We may be spread out across 16 countries but the Resource Centre has maintained a strong team spirit. Each of our regular global team meetings are a dose of inspiration given the innovative work underway by our colleagues and multiple partner organizations around the world.
The work ahead is not without its challenges (I’ve retained some British understatement despite living in New York since 2007).
Chauvinist nationalism is on the rise in many regions, often closely allied with unscrupulous business interests. Efforts to inject human rights into the global economy are now as urgent as ever. At the same time, the basic human rights strategy of speaking truth to power is challenged: when the concept of truth itself is undermined and when those in power seem to be immune to it.
The answer is not to retreat from truth but to amplify it through numbers. A quote by political activist and feminist Angela Davis has resonated with me recently: she says that what has kept her going over the years is “the development of new modes of community…it is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.”
While I move to shift my focus – though certainly not my motivation - to the local level here in New York City I know that I will remain closely connected to the strong and powerful community of the Resource Centre team and its many partners and allies around the world.
Annabel's last day at the Resource Centre is Friday 31 March; she will be joining ALIGN (the Alliance for a Greater New York) as Deputy Director in April.
Keep in touch!: @bellshort / bellshort (at) gmail.com .