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Uncalculated Risks: Business role in projects related to attacks on defenders

The new Uncalculated Risks report emphasises that Development Finance Institutions - DFIs - have an obligation to respect human rights and to ensure that their investments are not putting defenders at risk. It makes the point that DFIs should utilize all necessary leverage with all relevant actors, including businesses, to safeguard defenders and their rights, to investigate and sanction abuses and prevent recurrence, and to provide effective remedy and accountability for harm. Private and state owned businesses are often, and growingly, key implementers of development projects - this post highlights their role in projects found to be linked to attacks on defenders. Full report is available here.


International investment in fossil fuel extraction is making me and other Azerbaijani political prisoners hostages to the Aliyev regime. - Ilgar Mammadov, Open Letter from an Inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor

In Azerbaijan, oppression of journalists and human rights activists is endemic. But nothing has triggered a fiercer crackdown than the questioning of the government’s oil and gas aspirations, especially in relation to the Southern Gas Corridor pipeline project. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), World Bank, European Investment Bank (EIB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)all invested in the project. 

Business angle:

Before being imprisoned in February 2013, Ilgar Mammadov was chairman of the political opposition group REAL (Republican Alternative) and a civil society member of the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). As he reported days after being arrested, one of the main reasons for his detention was his rejection of the government’s proposed legislative amendments aimed at eliminating transparency of corporate ownership. Mammadov does not oppose the pipeline project itself. What he has criticized is the ability of the government to use the importance of the project for Western governments and donors to successfully neutralize criticism of the country’s crackdown on domestic opposition. Each segment of what is known as the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) pipeline is partially owned by the government of Azerbaijan, either directly or through the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) or a subsidiary. More information is available here


In Egypt, freezing of assets has become a prevalent strategy of the Egyptian government to deter human rights advocacy and restrict the activities of civil society organizations. Ahli United Bank (AUB) is one of the banks that froze assets of human rights lawyers and activists, including Azza Soliman’s. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is an equity owner in AUB.

Business angle:

On November 11, 2016, Azza Soliman, a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer discovered that both her personal and business accounts at Ahli United Bank (AUB) had been frozen. She filed a police report accusing Ahli United Bank (AUB)of violating Egyptian law by freezing her assets without a court order and and other due process required by law, she was arrested at her home and taken to the office of the investigative judge in what she believes was retaliation for speaking out. IFC argues that the assets were frozen in accordance with a judicial order and has remained silent regarding the fact that the freeze of Azza’s account took place more than three weeks before the requisite court order. More information is available here.


In Mexico, the failure to adequately consult indigenous peoples around the proposed Mareña Renovables and Eólica del Sur wind farms divided communities, leading to intimidation, judicial harassment, and physical attacks. Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), IDB Invest, Danish Export Credit Agency (EKF), Mexico’s National Bank of Public Works and Services (BANOBRAS) and Nacional Financiera (NAFINSA) have invested in these projects at various stages of the project, despite the lack of respect for indigenous rights, and the conflict and violence generated.

Business angle:

The Mareña Renovables project, which was acquired in 2011 as a public private partnership by the Macquaire Mexican Infrastructure Fund (MMIF), Macquarie Asset Finance Limited and Coca-Cola bottler, Fomento Económico Mexicano (FEMSA), was to be the largest wind farm in Latin America. Despite violent conflict and criminalization of indigenous leaders, the project received an influx of funds in 2012 from Mitsubishi and Dutch Pension Fund PGGM before it was relocated in 2013 and given a new name - Eólica del Sur. In May 2017 the restructuring from Mareña to Eólica del Sur was complete, with new equity holders - BalamCK16, Fonadin and Mitsubishi. The conflict and violence surrounding the projects continues. More information is available here.


In Uzbekistan, labor monitors investigating child and forced labor in state-run cotton fields have been beaten, detained and institutionalized for their work.  The IFC, ADB, World Bank and EBRD have heavily invested in projects benefitting the cotton sector in Uzbekistan as well as in private companies producing cotton products.

Business angle:

In 2015, harassment against independent labor monitors in Uzbekistan's cotton fields reached unprecedented levels. Dmitry Tikhonov, a journalist and human rights defender, was arrested, beaten, interrogated, and had his home office destroyed by arson, leading him to eventually flee the country. Uktam Pardaev was imprisoned for two months then released on a suspended sentence, under the condition that he would no longer report on human rights concerns. Yet in December 2015 the IFC approved a $40 million loan to Indorama Kokand Textile, a leading cotton yarn producer in Uzbekistan, to expand its textile plant, which uses solely Uzbek cotton.This is just one example of DFI support for Uzbekistan’s state-organized cotton labor system, which relies on forced labor. More information is available here.