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Business, civic freedoms and human rights defenders: Which developments and ideas did we put in the spotlight?

We continuously highlight important developments, research, actions and ideas at the intersection of business, civic freedoms and the work of human rights defenders:

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13 June 2017

Business contributing to attacks & helping protect defenders is one of most urgent issues in business & human rights, says UN Working Group

Author: UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

"Human rights defenders and civic space –  the business & human rights dimension", Jun 2017

The safety and security of human rights defenders (HRDs) and increased threats to civic freedoms has become a growing public concern. The role of business has been called into question with respect to its role in contributing to attacks against HRDs, but also its role in helping to protect defenders and support human rights. [This] is one of the most urgent issues for the business and human rights agenda, due to the increasing scale and seriousness.... Against this background, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has decided to give this topic specific attention in its own work and has identified activities it could undertake to complement and support efforts by others, including to...explore practical guidance for business on engaging, respecting and supporting human rights defenders in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as well as the role of business in preserving civic space... Documentation...has... helped in raising awareness of this situation, including much-cited work by Global Witness and by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, which recorded over 400 instances of attacks on defenders working on corporate accountability issues, in 2015 and 2016. [T]hanks to efforts to document this situation and advocacy by CSOs, in particular, initiatives to tackle the problem have been gaining momentum. 

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7 June 2017

CIVICUS 2017 State of Civil Society Report explores relationship between civil society & private sector

Author: CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation

"2017 State of Civil Society Report: Civil Society and the Private Sector"

As business continues to grow in influence globally, the State of Civil Society Report discusses serious concerns over private sector practices that are leading to increased human rights abuses and attacks on fundamental freedoms. The report proposes, as a minimum starting point, a ‘first do no harm’ principle. But it asks the private sector to go beyond this and make an active commitment to work with civil society to uphold the rule of law, human rights and people’s rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression....Just three per cent of the world’s population live in countries where civic space is fully open. Given the growing global role of business, this year’s report sets out an urgent need to make the business case for civic space. The report calls for greater civil society engagement with the private sector, and new relationships, based on honesty, transparency, respect and shared commitment to advance common goals. 27 freshly commissioned articles from our members and partners present a thought-provoking range of insights, full of practical ideas for civil society to influence, work with and address the power of the private sector.

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5 June 2017

Honduras: Financial institutions could withdraw funding for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project after investigation into Berta Caceres’ assassination

Author: Nina Lakhani, The Guardian (UK)

“Backers of Honduran dam opposed by murdered activist withdraw funding”, 5 Jun 17

…The international funders behind the hydroelectric dam opposed by murdered Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres are withdrawing from the project, the Guardian can reveal…Three financial institutions had pledged loans worth $44m for the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque river, which is considered sacred by the Lenca people and which Caceres campaigned against before her death…Desa secured loans from Dutch bank FMO, Finnish finance company FinnFund and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (Cabei)…FMO and FinnFund suspended their loans after police arrested a Desa employee in connection with the murder in May 2016…But all three investors have now decided to withdraw completely from the Agua Zarca project…In identical statements, FMO and FinnFund told the Guardian they “intend to exit as soon as possible. However, project financing being a complicated field, many aspects and issues have to be cleared from contractual and responsibility perspectives.”

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Company response
24 May 2017

Ahli United Bank Egypt responds to allegations by Egyptian human rights defender

Author: Ahli United Bank (Egypt)

AUBE’s second reply on the allegations mentioned in Mrs. Azza Soliman letter dated 9 May 2017

First of all, we confirm that AUBE acts in accordance to the laws governing the Bank. And, the bank will allow Mrs. Azza to access her accounts upon the cancelation of the issued adjudication. On the other hand, and reference to the above mentioned subject and to the response submitted from Mrs. Azza Soliman on what she called allegations from our bank, kindly find below our response on the mentioned letter ...

        4. Allegation: AUBE is complicit with security agencies and violated all relevant national and international banking regulations and customs 

  • Response: this is totally false allegation with no evidence, as the bank does not complicit with any entity and there is no complements in applying law. Also, security and judicial authorities are neutral and independent bodies. And the allegation mentioned from Mrs. Azza above may constitutes a crime against her and we hope no further allegations from her in the future 

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10 May 2017

Hungary: Multinational corporations only key players still silent on Orban's assault on independent academia, civil society & media

Author: Thorsten Benner & Wolfgang Reinicke in The Washington Post (USA)

"It’s time for international investors to speak up about Hungary’s assault on democracy", 18 Apr 2017

Earlier this month, German President...warned against an assault on civil society and academic freedom in the heart of Europe. “Europe must raise its voice,” he declared. He was referring...to the predicament of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest... Hungarian parliament passed a law with the sole purpose of driving CEU...out of the country... His latest move has earned Orban strong criticism... The U.S. government has come out strongly against [it]... German Chancellor Angela Merkel... [has] harshly criticized him. The only key players to have remained silent are the many European and U.S. multinational corporations — such as Audi, Daimler and General Electric...factories, research and development centers, and logistics hubs [of which] form the backbone of Hungary’s economy... German companies alone employ 174,000 Hungarians... Daimler has just invested about a billion euros in a new plant in Hungary. Audi is the second-largest employer... Any slowing or interruption of Audi’s production has an immediate impact on Hungarian gross domestic product. It is time for these companies to change course... Multinational corporations have a particular responsibility within the E.U... They cannot turn a blind eye when political freedom is being eroded even as they continue to benefit from the four economic freedoms of the [E.U.] common market. Foreign investors need to clearly speak up against Orban’s authoritarian agenda and his assault on independent civil society and media.

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27 April 2017

Brazil: 9 farmers killed over land dispute in region plagued by land grabs & illegal logging

Author: Enca

"Massacre in Brazilian farmland highlights brutal struggle", 27 Apr 2017

In Brazil, where approximately 60,000 murders are committed every year, the killings [of poor farmers] last week caused little uproar. Partly that's because they occurred in a remote area of western Brazil [with]...no proper roads and no cellphone signal. When the first reports emerged of mass killings on April 20, police had to make an arduous journey...[and] journalists...had an even harder time getting to the location...Five days on, the police have not announced any leads, let alone arrests, and the subject has largely disappeared from Brazilian news broadcasts. The biggest reason for this, say critics, is darker than mere problems of distance and communications. The area in Mato Grosso state is at the heart of Brazilian agriculture, a hugely lucrative industry that for years has been plagued by land grabs, illegal logging and environmentally destructive policies...According to the Pastoral Land Commission...61 people were killed in land conflicts in Brazil last year, the highest number since 2003...The Pastorais do Campo said the latest killings were rooted in the 2004 expulsion of 185 families from the lands they were farming. The pressure in the area has continued ever since, with murders, torture and illegal imprisonment, but hundreds of people continued to try and settle in the disputed lands...

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23 April 2017

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

Author: Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation

"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]

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Author: Voice of America (Etats-Unis)

Maïkoul Zodi, figure de la société civile nigérienne poursuivi pour concussion, a été relaxé après deux semaines de détention, la justice estimant les faits non constitués..."Notre camarade à été relaxé. Le juge vient de nous donner raison en disant que les 'faits ne sont pas constitués' et 'qu'il n'y a pas matière à poursuites'", a déclaré...Ali Idrissa, membre du Collectif de la Société civile auquel appartient M. Zodi. M. Zodi, également responsable au Niger de la coalition internationale 'Tournons la page' pour la démocratie en Afrique, avait été arrêté le 5 avril et inculpé de concussion après que le ministère de l'Enseignement secondaire eut informé celui de la Fonction publique que M. Zodi "continuait de toucher son salaire sans travailler". "Dès le début nous savions que notre camarade n'a eu à commettre aucune faute", a poursuivi M. Idrissa, coordonnateur du Réseau des organisations pour la transparence et l'analyse budgétaire (ROTAB), où milite aussi M. Zodi, professeur de collège de profession. Mi-mars 2016, M. Zodi, avait été mis, par son ministère, à la disposition de la Commission électorale nationale indépendante (Céni) pour y occuper le poste de rapporteur général. Il en avait ensuite démissionné pour dénoncer des violations de la loi électorale par le président de la Céni...Selon un autre membre de la société civile, Ali Garba, M. Zodi avait averti le ministère de la Fonction publique de sa démission de la Céni et demandé une nouvelle affectation. "Depuis il attend ce nouveau poste", mais "à ce jour le ministère ne lui a pas répondu", a expliqué...M. Garba. M. Zodi est l'un des dirigeants du Collectif de la société civile qui a déposé, le 31 mars, une "plainte contre X" auprès d'un juge d'instruction pour réclamer une enquête sur une vente présumée douteuse d'uranium nigérien...cette affaire baptisée "Uraniumgate", qui implique un proche du chef de l'Etat, fait depuis scandale dans ce Etat du Sahel...

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12 April 2017

Nationalism, xenophobia and authoritarianism: How should business respond to these rising trends?

Author: Contributions from Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Researchers

What role can and should business be taking to combat rapid shrinking of civic spaces and severe encroachment on human rights in international contexts? 

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26 March 2017

Front Line Defenders nominates two defenders working on business and human rights for its annual award

Author: Front Line Defenders

Given annually, the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk honours the work of human rights defenders who - at great personal risk - courageously make an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights of their communities... Nonhle Mbuthuma has persisted in her struggle for land and environmental rights in South Africa's Eastern Cape despite assassination attempts, ongoing death threats and the murder of her colleague. She is a founder and current member of the Executive Committee of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, formed to unite community members in five villages of the Amadiba Tribal Authority region opposing destructive mining projects... Human rights defender Francisca Ramírez Torres' children were attacked in attempt to stop her powerful work advocating against a destructive inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua. Francisca is the coordinator of the Council for the Defence of Land, Lake and Sovereignty, which educates communities on their rights, campaigns for the repeal of laws allowing land-grabbing. 

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