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Human Rights Defenders & Civic Freedoms

HRDs’ work is essential to the business and human rights movement because of their critical importance for ensuring corporate responsibility and accountability. Yet, attacks on them are growing. This hub brings together news on these advocates and communities - specifically on land, environmental and labour defenders, guidance for companies and investors, and supportive business actions. It also links to our database of attacks and interview series.

We all have the right and the responsibility to promote human rights and to safeguard democracy and its institutions. Human rights defenders are those of us that actively do so. Around the world, civic freedoms and human rights defenders (HRDs) are increasingly under attack and the environment in which civil society can operate freely is narrowing. This phenomenon is taking place not just in countries that are led by repressive or autocratic governments, but also in established democracies. In particular, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of information, and the right to privacy, are under increasing attack. Both companies and defenders have a shared interest in the full respect of civic freedoms, characterised by non-discrimination, transparent and accountable government, and freedom from corruption.

Prioritisation of business interests over interests of communities and workers is one of the key challenges faced by defenders. HRDs who confront business interests – be it human rights lawyers, labour activists and unionists, land and environmental defenders, anti-corruption activists or human rights journalists – are among those defenders most at risk. They are key agents of change, and they contribute greatly to safeguarding human rights and ensuring corporate responsibility. This portal collects the latest news on struggles and victories of these defenders, public company actions and policies in support of defenders and civic freedoms, guidance for companies and investors, and developments related to the two most targeted groups - labour rights defenders and land and environmental defenders. It also links to our database of attacks and our interview series, where defenders share their strategies, victories, and recommendations and business representatives share their perspectives on protecting civic freedoms and human rights.

The responsibility of businesses to respect human rights not only entails a negative duty to refrain from violating the rights of others, but also a positive obligation to support a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in the countries in which they are operating. Discharging this duty requires consultation with defenders in order to understand the issues at stake and the shortcomings that impede their work.
Mr Michel Forst, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

Featured stories & campaigns

Interview with Miguel Guimaraes, President of the Federation for Ucayali and Afluentes Native Communities (FECONAU)

FECONAU started a campaign to build a “maloka”, a traditional space to reach agreements, which would be guarded with police protection, and would offer internet access and a safe space for training and advocacy work. We spoke with FECONAU's President Miguel Guimaraes about this campaign and the threats faced by Indigenous leaders in Peru.

UN expert calls for increased protections for HRDs with EU mandatory human rights & environmental due diligence legislation

Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said that the European Union has a chance to set an example for the entire world by protecting people who risk their lives standing up for human rights in the context of business activities.

USA: Indigenous defenders continue to oppose Line 3 pipeline despite arrests, Japanese banks financing the project comment

The US government has granted permits for the construction of a tar sands pipeline (“Line 3”) through the designated treaty territories of the Anishinaabe without their free, prior, and informed consent. Line 3 is a pipeline expansion proposed by Canadian company Enbridge in 2014. Land and environmental defenders have opposed the project for the past seven years.

Our analysis & infographics

Since 2015, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has been collecting data on attacks on human rights defenders, focusing on business sectors and specific businesses. Our infographics and briefings show patterns of violence, identify at-risk business sectors and geographic areas, provide guidance for business & investors as well as in-depth analysis of some specific types of attacks, such as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

Explore further: Database of attacks on HRDs

The Resource Centre collects data on attacks on defenders that are targeted because they raise concerns about business sectors and operations. Collecting data about attacks on defenders is important in order to analyse patterns of violence, identify at-risk business sectors and geographic areas, and provide support to targeted individuals and groups.

HRDs interview series

The Resource Centre collects interviews with activists, journalists and human rights defenders, where they share their strategies, victories, and recommendations on protecting civic freedoms and human rights.