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5 Apr 2022

Human rights defenders & business in 2021: Protecting the rights of people driving a just transition


Human rights defenders (HRDs) protect our communities, rights, natural resources and our shared planet. They are vital leaders of the global climate justice movement and a just transition to green economies, raising concerns about risks and harms associated with irresponsible business operations and championing sustainable solutions. Yet they face intolerable risks. As our data reveals, those driving the just transition remain under sustained attack – targeted by government, business and other non-state actors with violence, intimidation, smear campaigns and judicial harassment.

Our analysis shows that attacks in 2021 occurred in every region of the world and in almost every business sector. Key findings:

  • Among the 615 attacks we tracked in 2021, nearly 70% were against climate, land and environmental rights defenders
  • All five of the most dangerous sectors are related to natural resources
  • 247 attacks were recorded in Asia and the Pacific (40%) and 190 attacks were recorded in Latin America (30%); most attacks occurred in India (49), followed by Mexico (47) and the Philippines (44)
  • 76 people defending their rights against harmful business operations were killed and at least 88 cases of death threats and intimidation were recorded
  • Judicial harassment was the most common type of attack against HRDs in 2021 (60%)

Protecting the rights of HRDs and civic freedoms is essential to drive change toward a just transition to a zero-carbon economy and a more equitable and sustainable world, and businesses are under mounting pressure to respect human rights as human rights due diligence laws and regulations gain momentum, and investors focus on portfolio companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG). Effective environmental and human rights due diligence also relies on engaging with HRDs, which helps both companies and investors reduce their risks and create long-term value for all stakeholders.

Protecting the rights of people driving a just transition

We recorded 615 attacks against human rights defenders working on business-related issues in 2021. Read about specific cases and find out what these attacks mean for our global effort to address the climate crisis.

Investor briefing

Why investors should better support defenders driving the just transition to green economies

Further reading

Human rights defenders & civic freedoms

News, resources and company guidance on the work of human rights defenders

Database of attacks

Explore our database of attacks on defenders targeted because of their work raising concerns about business operations


Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are criminal or civil lawsuits brought to intimidate, bankrupt and silence critics. Find news and resources and explore our database