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17 Jan 2017

Focus on Human Rights Defenders under threat & attack

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January 2017


Latin America has experienced an alarming rise in the number of cases involving violence and criminalisation against individuals, community leaders, trade unionists, and organizations. A 2016 Global Witness report stated that 185 environmental activists were killed worldwide in 2015; two thirds in Latin America, “by far the highest annual death toll on record”. This has happened while there have also been some advances across Latin America in business and human rights. Governments and companies have engaged with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, five countries started processes to elaborate National Action Plans on business and human rights, and Ecuador has led discussions around the proposed international binding treaty on business and human rights.

The sad conclusion is that the attacks have become systematic, strategic and intrinsic to conducting business in many sectors and regions of Latin America. There are countries, and zones within countries, where the repression is particularly egregious. In addition, governments have introduced laws that limit civic freedoms in the region. Draconian regulations and tendentious laws against those opposing projects and investments are routinely used across the region to dissuade others from protesting, regardless of the possible negative consequences these projects could bring.

Despite all this, alongside the moral imperative for companies to avoid abuse and repression, there is also a clear business case. Abuse leads to protest, suspensions and lawsuits with potentially huge financial losses. In our age of global social media, companies are also increasingly exposed to public scrutiny and the reputation risk that comes with abuse. This can shatter a company’s social license to operate, increase the cost of capital, alienate talent which is a turnkey for greater competitiveness, and attract global campaign opprobrium.

The briefing contains several specific recommendations for companies and Latin American governments.