The role of companies in protecting civic freedoms and HRDs


PWYP and CIVICUS (2016): Against all Odds – The perils of fighting for natural resource justice, December 2016

It is dangerous to raise questions about the governance of natural resources. To fight for fairer distribution of the benefits from a country’s resource exploitation means encountering stark power imbalances. The space for those who defend community land, expose corruption and environmental degradation, and advocate for transparency and good governance is currently being squeezed by two converging global trends. Firstly, natural resource exploitation is intensifying, endangering already fragile ecosystems. Secondly, authoritarian values are on the rise, resulting in lower tolerance for pluralism and the contraction of political liberties. This is enabling the restriction of individual freedoms and collective rights.  Avoiding their commitments under international law, governments worldwide are actively repressing natural resource activists and failing to protect them from persecution. Powerful corporate players are taking advantage of impunity, with unrestrained hostility towards activism. For this report, CIVICUS and PWYP have collected stories from the ground to shed light on the growing pushback that activists on natural resource governance are experiencing daily. These stories highlight the variety of ways in which activists are prevented from scrutinising business and expressing their opposition to natural resource projects worldwide. They also reveal underlying patterns of repression. 



Charities Aid Foundation and London School of Economics and Political Science (2016): Beyond Integrity – Exploring the Role of Business in Preserving Civil Society Space, September 2016

Beyond Integrity, a report produced by CAF, in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), examines how some companies are going above and beyond their traditional role to protect civic space.

Key findings are:  
• Privately held dialogues between key stakeholders and host governments can be more effective at initiating positive action than a public challenge. 
• Leveraging formal and informal cross-sectoral networks is instrumental in convincing corporations to act on behalf of civil society. 
• Firms in consumer-facing industries are responsive to large-scale social movements that raise awareness regarding human rights abuses; 
• Privately owned companies with strong ethics and values tied into the core business model, led by engaged leaders, are likely to respond to civil society.




Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), Front Line Defenders and Civil Rights Defenders (2015): Human Rights Defenders and Business: Searching for Common Ground, December 2015.  

The first part has four essays, which detail the history of the Ogoni crisis, how it shaped the modern discourse on human rights and business, and outlines the cases in this Paper. It also shows the shrinking space for civil society worldwide. The second essay outlines the features of the Declaration for Human Rights Defenders and its implications for the state and business. The third essay shows the growing trend worldwide to crack down on civil society. The fourth essay makes the case for human rights defenders and why business should work with, rather than against, human rights defenders. The second part has eleven cases drawn from all parts of the world, which show instances where journalists, activists, environmentalists, and trade union leaders have challenged business conduct or government policies that have undermined human rights, and the range of responses that have followed. The conclusion offers recommendations to business on how they can operate in ways that do not undermine the freedoms of human rights defenders.



Maina Kiai (2015): A binding international instrument on business & human rights should safeguard civic space, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, September 2015

In a commentary for the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Maina Kiai, UN Sepcial Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association elaborates why it is so difficult to ensure that assembly and association rights are respected in the context of natural resource exploitation, and concludes that the best solution to the problem would be a binding international treaty that imposes human rights obligations on businesses. "The world has changed since the adoption of our core international human rights norms in the 20th century," the Special Rapporteur writes. "States are no longer the sole dominant actors. International law must change to reflect this reality."



Florian Wettstein (2015): Legitimate human rights advocacy: A blueprint for business, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, August 2015

Not all are comfortable with the new role of companies and question whether advocacy should indeed be part of the business of business. Do we risk legitimizing companies’ already powerful voice with governments by asking them to advocate for human rights issues? How do we ensure genuine advocacy efforts as opposed to mere window dressing? What should companies be advocating for? The author provides some unsolicited advice for companies undertaking human rights advocacy.



Mauricio Lazala and Joe Bardwell (2015): “What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t, Open Democracy, June 2015

While there are many positive examples of companies speaking out for human rights, far too many remain silent when human rights are at stake in repressive states, or, in a small amount of cases, work against the interests of human rights. It is increasingly common for large multinationals to have public human rights policies, many of which result in real action to address the human rights issues directly related to their operations. Often, these policies include commitments to undertake human rights due diligence and engage with stakeholders. But when some companies establish or continue operations in repressive states, these public commitments are regularly at odds with their inaction and silence.



Mauricio Lazala (2015): Despite the odds: Businesses speaking out for human rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 2015

We have seen a proliferation of repressive laws and practices deployed by an increasing number of states, and an increase in the criminalisation of human rights defenders and other civil society actors. Companies’ responses are at odds with their public human rights commitments when they remain silent and do not act. However, some companies are speaking out against these actions, taking a public stance on matters where business has traditionally been silent. But how are companies speaking out for human rights? What motivates them to do so? And, importantly, what can civil society learn from the examples to date?

Summaries originally published by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.