Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders (HRDs) - including labor union leaders, land and environmental defenders, affected community members, anti-corruption activists, and journalists - safeguard human rights and the rule of law around the world. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders refers to "individuals, groups and associations.. contributing to... the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals." 

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) recognize the key role of HRDs in human rights due diligence. Businesses are urged to consider HRDs as an important expert resource that may help companies assess their human rights impacts and enable them to understand the concerns of affected stakeholders, particularly "in situations where consultation with affected stakeholders is not possible." The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has released guidance highlighting the need to address adverse impacts of business activities on human rights defenders and unpacking for States and businesses the normative and practical implications of the UNGPs in relation to protecting and respecting the vital work of HRDs. 

The Investor Alliance is working with allies such as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), and Global Witness to sensitize investors about how they can be connected to harmful impacts on defenders through investments in companies that cause, contribute to, or are directly linked to human rights abuses or environmental destruction. Together with our allies, BHRRC and ISHR, we published Safeguarding Human Rights Defenders: Practical Guidance for Investors, which provides institutional investors with detailed information on how to identify, prevent, and mitigate negative impacts on HRDs in investment portfolios. To learn more, view the recording of our webinar, where we discuss this guidance, investor due diligence processes, and other actions that investors can take to protect human rights defenders. 

According to the BHRRC, since 2015, a total of 4,631 attacks have been recorded to date against HRDs who raised alarms about irresponsible business practices. One of the tactics deployed to stop defenders from raising concerns is strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). Investors are not immune from these SLAPP suits. In June 2021, the Investor Alliance released an Investor Statement on SLAPPs in which 44 investors with 270+ billion USD of combined assets called on companies to take broad, systemic action to protect HRDs and immediate action to ensure that they do not use or support SLAPPs against individuals, organizations, or communities who peacefully promote or protect human rights and the environment. Our Safeguarding Human Rights Defenders webinar also discusses SLAPPs, including a testimony from a human rights defender facing a SLAPP. 

If you are interested in learning more about our work or would like to be added to the outreach list for this thematic investor group, please get in touch with Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt.