New company survey & report urges European companies & states to step up efforts to identify & address risks to defenders

Human rights and environmental defenders play a key role in holding companies and states accountable for business-related human rights violations and environmental degradation. However, defenders are increasingly defamed, harassed and killed for protecting rights. Swedwatch report, based on a survey with 22 European companies and on interviews with defenders working on corporate responsibility or related issues, found that 10 of the 22 companies claim to include a risk assessment for defenders as part of their due diligence process, and assess limitations on the operating environment for defenders. No company acknowledged paying particular attention to defenders belonging to vulnerable groups. The report outlines steps that companies should take to help ensure that defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment and the role of states in addressing business-related attacks on defenders and highlights the need for legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence to ensure that companies respect defenders throughout their value chains.

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Article
13 December 2019

Defenders at risk: Attacks on human rights and environmental defenders and the responsibility of business

Author: Swedwatch

Companies can be linked to attacks against defenders through suppliers, customers or other business partners. Both states and business actors are vital in addressing this risk and in moving towards a systematic protection of, and respect for, defenders as a cornerstone of any democratic society... Defenders around the world pay a high price when this responsibility is not adequately recognised. Since 2015, more than 2,000 business-related legal and physical attacks have been reported... [Defenders'] testimonies provide evidence of grave and systematic oppression of critical voices and point to common ways in which companies put defenders in danger: By contributing to existing tensions and exacerbating local conflict dynamics; [b]y cooperating with state-owned companies or state-prioritised projects in countries where governments target defenders, and [b]y offering resources or technology that can be used against defenders. [Refers to adidas, Anglo American, ArcelorMittal, C&A, Deutsche Telekom, Enel, Ericsson, Glencore, H&M, Inditex, Lidl, New Wave Group, Next, Rio Tinto, S-Group, Siemens, Tele 2, Telenor, Telia, Tesco, Vattenfall, Vestas Wind Systems].

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Article
13 December 2019

Swedwatch's company survey

The survey found that 10 of the 22 companies claim to include a risk assessment for defenders as part of their due diligence process, and assess limitations on the operating environment for defenders. Another 10 affirmed that they assess these risks “to some extent”. Most do so only in relation to union rights and threats against labour rights defenders... Two companies do not assess risks to defenders at all. No company acknowledged paying particular attention to defenders belonging to vulnerable groups. Twelve companies confirmed the statement that “the business sector should take active steps to protect defenders”. However, nine companies responded that the business sector should be less active..., and merely “avoid a negative impact on defenders’ situation and civic freedoms”. All companies...agreed that the business sector has a responsibility towards defenders... Companies that have not assessed risks...explained that this is due to a lack of clarity and adequate guidance from the UN and/or home government, lack of competence,... not being entirely clear on the best sources of information [or] how to appropriately mitigate identified risks... Although only about a third of the 60 companies approached by Swedwatch replied..., their answers encouragingly indicate that the issue...is on the agenda of several of the largest Europe-based companies... 

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