Back to top
1 December 2015

Human Rights Defenders & Business - Searching for Common Ground

Many companies now realise that wherever they operate, their ultimate licence to operate comes not only from legal agreements with governments, but also from their acceptance by workers, consumers, and the communities that surround them or are impacted by them. It does not mean that every company has got it right; nor does it mean it is always the fault of companies. In many instances, governments keen to build infrastructure, attract investment, or develop the economy are willing to disregard the views of communities, the rights of workers, or of consumers. Companies may benefit in the short term from actions governments take – a pollution standard undermined, a law changed to outlaw strikes, a parcel of land acquired without the consent of those who own or live on that land. Companies sometimes contribute to the problem by assisting governments to impose surveillance or providing logistical support that enables governments to take steps that may violate human rights. And in many instances, companies say nothing. To be sure there are examples of companies that have privately criticized governments over their human rights conduct, and in some cases, intervened on behalf of political prisoners or human rights defenders. But too little is known about such actions, which increases the perception that through their outward silence companies are beneficiaries of government actions.