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Press Release

7 May 2024

Blood on their hands: Business’ role in attacks on social justice activists under scrutiny

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On 24 November 2023, Higinio Trinidad de la Cruz, an Indigenous defender from the Sierra de Manantlán, Jalisco, Mexico, and Councillor for the State Indigenous Council was summoned by the Municipal President of Cuautitlán de García Barragán for a meeting. He did not return home. After several hours, his family reported his disappearance. He was found dead the next day.

Higinio had defended his territory against illegal logging and mining for many years. He called for justice following alleged unjust uses of lands in his community by the Peña Colorada mining project – owned by Ternium and ArcelorMittal.*

Christen Dobson, Co-Head, Civic Freedoms & Human Rights Defenders Programme, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “This is just one of 630 attacks on human rights defenders the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre identified during 2023 – affecting an estimated 20,000 people around the world. Many of the attacks involved collusion between state, private sector and other non-state actors, such as organised crime – but this is not to absolve companies from responsibility. Unscrupulous businesses will go to great lengths to distance themselves from attacks which makes it a huge challenge for civil society to hold them to account.”

BHRRC has been documenting attacks against those raising concerns about irresponsible business activity since 2015 (recording more than 5,300 attacks in total). In 2023, the data revealed:

  • Over three-quarters (78%) of attacks were against people taking action to protect the climate, environmental and land rights.
  • Most (86%) attacks recorded in 2023 were non-lethal attacks (death threats, judicial harassment, physical violence and others).
  • We recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023.
  • Attacks were recorded in almost every sector, but the sectors connected with the highest number of attacks – mining (165), agribusiness (117) and oil, gas & coal (112) – are those fuelling the planetary crisis – and which have significant influence over the energy transition. They have consistently been the most dangerous sectors since 2015.

Dobson added, “Latin America and the Caribbean saw the highest number of attacks in 2023: 41% of the global total (258 attacks). Almost a third (30% or 195 attacks) took place in Asia and the Pacific. We also documented numerous attacks across Europe and North America against climate activists engaged in peaceful protest and civil disobedience, including France (16) and the UK (15). While climate and environmental defenders across the globe are taking vital action to protect our planet, governments are responding with repression.

“We are living in an age when corporate power and influence has never been greater – but it remains out of the reach of effective checks and balances. This is unsustainable for people and the planet. Companies and governments need to step up: to recognise the crucial role of defenders in protecting our rights, championing a just transition and holding business actors to account for harms and realise it is in their power to put an end to these attacks.”

*The Resource Centre contacted Ternium and ArcelorMittal for a response; their responses are available here.

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Notes to editors: 

  • Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe.
  • About this research: BHRRC has been recording attacks against human rights defenders speaking out about corporate abuse since 2015. Our 2023 findings are available in English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Find out more about our methodology here.