Indicators on how to track businesses' respect of the rights of human rights defenders

ISHR's new indicators are designed to provide baseline guidance on what is required to monitor the implementation of the responsibility of business to respect the rights of human rights defenders.

Last year marked the 25th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Right Defenders

The Declaration speaks to the essential role human rights defenders play in protecting and promoting human rights. Yet, across the globe they face increased intimidation, harassment, criminalisation and are murdered for their work. According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC), since January 2015, there have been nearly 5,000 attacks on human rights defenders working on business and human rights issues.

Defenders and UN experts have long worked to hold businesses accountable for meeting their responsibilities to defend civic freedoms and protect human rights defenders. Part of this work has included articulating what these responsibilities are and practical steps to meet them.

Inspired by and building from the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the BHRRC and ISHR 2018 report, ‘Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, Guidance for Companies,’ lays out the normative framework that clarifies the corporate responsibility to act and to do no harm against HRDs. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights reaffirmed this in their 2021 Guidance on ensuring respect for human rights defenders. This guidance develops the implications of the Guiding Principles for engaging with and safeguarding the rights of human rights defenders– providing both States and businesses with a set of recommendations to follow.

Over the last few years, there has been an increasing articulation of the responsibility of businesses to respect and promote civic freedoms and the rights of Human Rights Defenders.  Some recent examples of these efforts include the 2023 Unilever human rights policy and implementation guide and the BHRRC Human Rights Defender Policy Tracker.

In this same spirit, ISHR is launching a set of Indicators on Business and Human Rights that cover the following areas:

  • Zero tolerance on intimidation, attacks and threats against HRDs
  • Human rights due diligence
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Access to remedy/grievance mechanisms
  • Support for civic freedoms
  • Requirements for business partners and suppliers to have similar commitments

The indicators come in list and poster form. ISHR has also produced a 'snapshot' of the UN Working Group's Guidance on ensuring respect for human rights defenders, in the form of an explainer, available in multiple languages. 

We would like to thank Bennett Freeman, Ragnhild Handagard and Ana Zbona for their significant contribution to developing the indicators and to all those that provided feedback on early versions of the text.

We created a wonderful "Responsibility of businesses" roadmap poster for you. It shows the important steps to take on the journey to a responsible business, respecting the rights of human rights defenders amongst all people. You can download it in poster size print quality in the download section and print it yourself to go on your office wall, to remind everyone about the little steps and big responsibility to take everyday.

We hope that these indicators and the poster are useful tools to continue encouraging businesses to take their responsibilities seriously and to hold them accountable.