Human Rights Defenders, Business and Human Rights
Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Threats to human rights defenders and to civic freedoms are increasing concerns globally. A large number of human rights defenders are under threat and attack because they raise concern about adverse human rights impacts of business operations, often in the context of large development projects that affects access to land and livelihoods. At the same time, the space for civil society actors to raise concerns about human rights impacts is shrinking, and human rights defenders face criminalization when engaging in public protest or civil dissent.
Concerns are being raised about the role of business in contributing to attacks against human rights defenders or in failing to take action against such attacks. Questions are also being raised about the role of business in helping to protect human rights defenders and civic space.
States have the primary obligation to ensure the rights and protection of human rights defenders, as set out in various human rights instruments—in particular the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders—and as reaffirmed in many UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions.
The importance of human rights defenders in the context of business-related impacts on human rights is recognized by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They highlight the key role human rights defenders can have in human rights due diligence and enabling companies to understand concerns of affected stakeholders. In particular, the Guiding Principles:
- Urge businesses to consult human rights defenders as an important expert resource as part of their human rights due diligence, as defenders have a key role as watchdogs, advocates and voice for affected stakeholders.
- Urge States to ensure that the legitimate activities of human rights defenders are not obstructed.
Relevant Working Group’s work on protecting and respecting HRDs in the context of business operations
The Working Group on Business and Human Rights, as part of its mandate to promote the UN Guiding Principles, decided to give focused attention to the issue human rights defenders and civic space by:
- Developing guidance for States and business on action to safeguard and support human rights defenders in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
- Facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue among stakeholders, so as to develop coordinated efforts; and by
- Helping identify and support opportunities for collective action.
This guidance was developed based on multistakeholder consultations and submissions received in response to an open call for inputs. The Working Group issued a discussion paper to guide suggestions from interested parties: Discussion paper: identifying elements for guidance on human rights defenders and the role of business.
The Working Group worked in consultation with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, whose report to the 2017 UN General Assembly addressed the situation of human rights defenders raising concerns about business-related impacts.
- Summary of expert workshop (Geneva, 11 May 2017)
- Summary of multi-stakeholder consultation (Geneva, 30 November 2017)
Additional related outputs
- Background note: Human rights defenders and civic space – the business and human rights dimension
- Blog: Protecting and respecting those who speak up against business impacts on human rights - takeaways from the 2017 UN Forum and the way forward
- UN-EU High-level Policy Dialogue “Protecting the safety of journalists, Media freedom and pluralism in the European Union: challenges and opportunities”, Brussels, 24 February 2022
- Critical part of the UNGPs 10+ Roadmap: Increasing the protection of human rights defenders in the face of strategic lawsuits against public participation
- Joint statement on Human Rights Day 2019: Time to act – Protect defenders who speak up against business impact on people and planet
- Honduras: Masterminds of Berta Cáceres killing still at large, say UN experts
- Op-ed: The deadly price of fighting for human and environmental rights
- UN experts condemn deadly police response to protest against copper smelting plant in India
- UN experts urge Kenya to protect environmental defenders
- UN experts condemn use of defamation laws to silence human rights defender Andy Hall
- Guatemala: Rise in attacks on human rights defenders is deeply concerning – say UN experts
- Working Group and other special rapporteurs call on the Thai Government to protect human rights defenders affected by judicial harassment for raising concerns about conditions at poultry farm