The work of human rights defenders (HRDs) and civil society is vital to peace, justice, fairness and sustainable development. It is also essential to promote transparency and combat corruption. Nonetheless, around the world, there is a concerted attack on the essential freedoms and the rule of law on which business and civil society depend. Both defenders and organisations who expose the risk of abuse by companies in their operations and supply chains are under particular attack.
Guatemala – Marlin Mine Goldcorp by Dave Dyet, licensed under
(CC BY-NC 2.0)
Responsible businesses and investors need to both step up and lead by example as well as to speak and act decisively to protect open societies and the “shared civic space” in which both companies and civil society develop. Sustainable development cannot thrive in closed societies where cronyism and corruption prosper, and basic human rights are not respected.
But why, when and how should businesses engage on this urgent agenda? There is no easy answer and progress will only be achieved by motion and action. Created in 2016 with this goal in mind, the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders is formed by a group of companies committed to identifying ways that businesses and society can benefit from increased support from the private sector for the protection of civic freedoms and human rights defenders.
The Network is a trusted space to tackle issues related to human rights defenders and civic freedoms and represents an important step forward towards business action. After a few years of engagements, analysis, exchanges and discussions, the Network has contributed to guide realistic action by responsible companies, investors, industry associations and business leaders. However, there is still a long way to go.
The Network is now launching its official website, where details about activities, priorities and participants can be found and engagement is encouraged.
The participating NGOs and defenders have been providing guidance for companies, which was compiled in the Shared Space Under Pressure Report on Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, published by BHRRC and ISHR in 2018. Since then, at least 30 companies make references to human rights defenders in their internal policies. A good trend, but not enough in terms of numbers, implementation, and impact. Additionally, some of the members signalled their early commitment to this agenda through this public statement in support of civic freedoms, human rights defenders and the rule of law.
The Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders is coordinated by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the International Service for Human Rights, and The B Team. Approximately 40 major multinationals currently participate in the Business Network. The Network works across sectors, which include businesses, civil society (NGOs, community representatives, union leaders and other front line human rights defenders), investors, international institutions and academia.
Visit the new website and join!