Our key takeaway: Attacks against human rights and environmental defenders, ranging from legal intimidation to threats to violence to murder, are still on the rise globally. Perhaps most concerning is the parallel upwards trajectory between investment in mining for transition minerals and the number of defenders attacked for speaking out against mining projects. Investors and companies need to conduct robust human rights and environmental due diligence to identify and mitigate risks to defenders, and commit to remedy when impacts have already occurred.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) published an interactive resource and an investor briefing, outlining trends in attacks on human rights defenders (HRDs) and providing recommendations for the private sector:
- Attacks on HRDs are poised to grow amidst imperatives of the green energy transition: In 2021, BHRRC identified 615 attacks against HRDs in a wide variety of business sectors and in nearly every region of the world, with most occurring in India (49), Mexico (47) and the Philippines (44); in Mexico and Brazil, the most HRDs were killed (17 each). Climate, land and environmental defenders were the target of almost 70% of attacks in 2021. The most dangerous sectors for HRDs are related to natural resources, including mining, agribusiness, oil, gas and coal, logging and lumber, and hydropower. In light of the drive for transition minerals to meet climate goals, the number of attacks linked to the mining sector is particularly concerning—and may worsen if current trends continue: “International Energy Association projections point to a six-fold increase in demand for transition minerals by 2040. For the past seven years, mining has been the most dangerous sector for HRDs raising serious concerns about business-related harms.” The most common drivers of attacks reveal that businesses are not engaging in effective rights-based stakeholder engagement. BHRRC finds that “[a]t least 104 attacks against HRDs in 2021 stemmed from a lack of effective consultation or free, prior and informed consent or disagreements regarding impact assessments.” Further, “nearly half (45%) the attacks on labour rights defenders and trade unionists in 2021 were linked to restrictions on their freedom of association and assembly.”
- Recommendations for investors: Investors should take steps to ensure respect for HRDs in all projects they are linked to. First, investors should publish a policy on HRDs that includes zero tolerance for attacks and threats. This policy should be communicated to all investees and should specify that, at minimum, companies: “disclose human rights and environment-related risks; engage in ongoing consultation with communities, workers and HRDs; have policies and processes to respect Indigenous peoples’ rights (including land rights and free, prior and informed consent); respect the rights of HRDs; and ensure effective access to remedy when harm occurs.” Second, investors should undertake human rights and environmental due diligence, including reviewing (and excluding) investee companies “for any past involvement with retaliation” against defenders. Third, investors should build and use their leverage with portfolio companies “so that the company mitigates negative impacts and provides access to remedy to those affected.”
- Recommendations for companies: BHRRC recommends three actions for companies. First, adopt policies specific to respect for HRDs, meaningfully engage with and consult HRDs throughout all stages of due diligence, and commit to zero tolerance for any type of threats or attacks against HRDs throughout the value chain. Second, conduct strong human rights and environmental due diligence and ensure access to remedy for people harmed by business activities; specifically, companies can refer to the UN Working Group’s guidance on ensuring respect for HRDs. Third, prioritise respect for FPIC, “including their right to define the process by which FPIC is achieved and to withhold consent (more detailed recommendations available here).”