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Company & investor support for HRDs

One of the most important and urgent opportunities for responsible business is to support civic freedoms - freedoms of association, assembly, expression and privacy - and the people who exercise the rights to defend all human rights. There is a clear normative responsibility for companies to respect human rights, as set forth in the Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs), and companies also have a discretionary opportunity to go above and beyond these defined responsibilities and expectations. The UNGPs are a hard floor, not a low ceiling, for company action to support civic freedoms and human rights defenders (HRDs). This page gathers the latest news on business action in support of human rights defenders and features a collection of company and investor policies that mention HRDs.

"Supporting civic freedoms and human rights defenders is an essential element in the sustainability of enterprises and society as a whole."
John Ruggie, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Business and Human Rights & author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Our recommendations for companies

  • Adopt and implement policy commitments which recognise the valuable role of defenders, reference specific risks to defenders, ensure effective engagement and consultation with defenders at all stages of the due diligence process and commit to zero-tolerance for reprisals throughout the company’s operations, supply chains and business relationships.
  • Create public commitments to respect fundamental rights with particular attention to rights often abused in connection with attacks on defenders, such as violations of land and Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Engage in and report on the results of human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and ensure effective access to remedy for those harmed by business activity, in accordance with the UNGPs, the UN Working Group’s guidance on ensuring respect for defenders, and the UN Working Group’s gender guidance.
  • Recognise that Indigenous defenders are disproportionately at risk, respect Indigenous peoples’ rights, grounded in their rights to self-determination; lands, territories, and resources; and right to free, prior, and informed consent, including their right to define the process by which FPIC is achieved and to withhold consent (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Publicly recognise that defenders have a right to defend human rights, are essential allies in assisting businesses to adhere to their responsibilities under the UNGPs.

Our recommendations for investors

  • Publish a public human rights policy which recognises the valuable role of defenders in identifying risks associated with business activities and commits to a zero-tolerance approach to attacks against defenders. Clearly communicate the human rights expectations included in this policy to portfolio companies, including that companies:
    ‣ disclose human rights and environment-related risks;
    ‣ engage in ongoing consultation with communities, workers and defenders;
    ‣ have policies and processes to respect Indigenous peoples’ rights (including land rights and free, prior and informed consent);
    ‣ respect the rights of defenders; and
    ‣ ensure effective access to remedy when harm occurs.
  • Undertake rigorous human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and review potential investees for any past involvement with retaliation. Avoid investing in companies with this track record.
  • Use leverage with investee companies which cause, contribute to, or are directly linked to human rights and environmental harms, including attacks on defenders, so that the company mitigates negative impacts and provides access to remedy to those affected.

Webinar : Safeguarding Human Rights Defenders - Practical Guidance for Investors

In this webinar, labour rights defender Sutharee Wanassiri, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, International Service for Human Rights and Global Witness discuss the responsibility of companies and investors to prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address negative impacts on defenders and detailing practical actions they should take.

Guidance for Business and Investors

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: guidance on ensuring respect for human rights defenders - Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

In the present report, submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to its resolutions 17/4, 26/22, 35/7 and 44/15, the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises highlights the need for addressing the adverse impact of business activities on human rights defenders. It unpacks for States and business the normative and practical implications of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in relation to protecting and respecting the vital work of human rights defenders.

Shared space under pressure: Business support for civic freedoms and human rights defenders: Guidance for companies 2018

This guidance advises companies as they address the challenges as well as opportunities to support civil society and HRDs. It explains the normative framework, the business case and the moral choice that should inform company engagement and action. It focuses on factors companies should consider when deciding whether, and if so how, to act in response to certain issues and situations. It identifies risks for both action and inaction − and observes that managing the risks of inaction may be greater than managing the risks of action for many companies. And it spotlights examples of how companies are acting across countries and sectors, as well as new initiatives and critical actors in the arena.

Safeguarding Human Rights Defenders: Practical Guidance for Investors

Institutional investors can be connected to harmful impacts on defenders through their investments in companies that cause, contribute to or are directly linked to actions that undermine the rights of defenders. By protecting and supporting the work of human rights defenders, investors and companies contribute to advancing their human rights performance, improving supply chain resilience and managing financial, legal and reputational risks, while promoting peace, justice, and sustainability.

Large businesses & associations with public policies & statements in support of human rights defenders

At least 30 companies have policies that mention defenders, and some explicitly endorse the zero-tolerance approach to violence against them in their supply chains.

IFC releases guidance for its clients on preventing reprisals against project opponents during COVID-19, encouraging zero tolerance approach

Recognizing that reprisals against project stakeholders who voice opinions or opposition to project activities have grown in visibility worldwide, with the potential to be magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic, IFC released guidance for its clients on how to address them.