On 7 September 2021, the International Service for Human Rights facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue with United Nations experts, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss about Business, Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders.
The UN Forum, which begins today and will run online until 18 November, will bring together hundreds of experts in sustainability and human rights from governments, businesses, banks, NGOs and academia to discuss ‘strengthening prevention… to build a sustainable future for people and the planet’. Discussions are based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, or UNGPs, which set standards for companies to respect human rights in their business operations and remedy human rights violations with which they are involved.
Such commitments from companies are important, especially when – like in China – governments play an active role in abuse.
According to Zumretay Arkin, of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), ‘between 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples have been put in camps in China. Many of these camps are connected to cotton and clothing production facilities where Uyghur detainees are forced to work, which are major global sources of both cotton and clothing production.’
‘Virtually the entire clothing industry is potentially implicated’.
As Uyghur groups and human rights advocates have pointed out, this government repression makes operating in the Uyghur Region in accordance with the UNGPs a practical impossibility. Surveillance and heightened security measures mean that companies or auditors have no reliable means to get credible information about conditions in their supply chains. For those companies sourcing cotton or finished products from companies operating in the Uyghur Region, the only way to prevent Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains is to exit the Region.
Since July, 290 organisations from more than 35 countries – including WUC and ISHR – have supported a call on the global apparel industry to do just that: to disengage from the Uyghur Region in order to meet their corporate responsibility to respect human rights under the UNGPs.
Over the past year, the risks and overall operating environment have led to changes in behaviour by some private sector and multi stakeholder actors, including the Fair Labor Association, Better Cotton Initiative, and brands like H&M. But these voluntary efforts can only be the beginning. Corporations are increasingly facing legal requirements to engage in human rights due diligence; the EU is committed to introducing rules for mandatory corporate human rights and environmental due diligence, which will be discussed at this year’s Forum.
‘The UN Forum is precisely the kind of space where a discussion of due diligence in the Uyghur Region, including how to exit, should take place,’ says Sarah M. Brooks, the Asia advocate at the International Service for Human Rights. ‘But it’s not the only one.’
‘The G20, the OECD, and ministries and parliaments of every single government that takes business and human rights seriously should be addressing what companies must do to engage in human rights due diligence, including in the Uyghur Region.’
Uyghur communities and human rights groups around the world will continue to call for corporations to do their part in preventing human rights violations in the Uyghur Region. Governments should take concrete measures to regulate their companies’ business relationships in the region, such as mandating due diligence in line with the UNGPs, imposing import bans and requiring additional disclosure.
Finally, the UN should step up its role in monitoring and reporting on the situation in China, and the Uyghur Region specifically, and in holding those violating human rights to account.
Contact: Sarah M. Brooks at s.brooks[at]ishr.ch or @sarahmcneer
Image credit: @yettesu for the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
ISHR welcomes the Council’s historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and to promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
Should businesses advocate for human rights defenders? What is the relationship between companies’ economic activities and civil society? The United Nations, through the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, has shed further light on the role of businesses by recently releasing a guidance for companies on ensuring respect for human rights defenders.
A new ISHR report maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.
With three more human rights defenders detained arbitrarily in recent days, once again the Human Rights Council was asked to do more to put pressure on Venezuela to allow dissenting voices in the country to be heard. Independent civil society makes a critical contribution to the construction of societies built on the respect of human rights.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
In a statement at the Human Rights Council, ISHR welcomed the UN Working Group’s recently released Guidance document for using the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for engaging with, safeguarding and ensuring respect for the rights of Human Rights Defenders. Human rights defenders are at the forefront of protecting their communities, the environment and key natural resources that maintain the balance in our planet.
ISHR joins human rights organisations from across the globe in calling for the unconditional and immediate release of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, who turned 60 on 5 April.