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Monday, November 26 • 9:00am - 10:30am
Voices from the ground

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Convened by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in collaboration with: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-growing (ECLT), The African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children's Rights, Global Witness and Rafto Foundation for Human Rights

Short description of the session:
This trailblazing session will feature a panel made up of only human rights defenders and community representatives from all regions, who will speak frankly about their stories and experiences of working to improve business respect for human rights in their countries, as well as the attacks they are under because of doing so. The session will be divided into three parts: the first part with focus on ways in which they’ve successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals this year, the second part will identify the common challenges that defenders and community representatives face in their work, and the third part will outline what they want to see between now and the next forum. We will leave enough time for interaction with the audience after each segment.
This session will offer an insight into the lives and struggles of defenders and community representatives, and outline a set of their core challenges and expectations to businesses, investors and governments, thus setting the scene for the 7th Forum on Business and Human Rights.

Session objectives:
The session will provide a “reality-check” early on in the Forum, and outline a set of core challenges and expectations by defenders and community representatives to businesses and governments, thus setting the scene for the 7th Forum on Business and Human Rights. The goal of the first part will be discuss ways that they’ve successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals so far, the objective of the second part will be to identify common challenges that defenders face in their work, and the objective of the third part will be to for defenders and community representatives to voice their expectations to the forum (governments, businesses, and investors).

Key discussion questions:
  • 1st part: focuses on ways in which they’ve successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals so far
    Question(s) to speakers: What was your main achievement in your work as a defender or community representatives this year? Why do you do what you do and what keeps you going?  
    Sub-questions: What were the main things that helped you and your colleagues continue defending human rights in the context of business operations in your country over the past year (coalitions, partnerships, new approaches to work, financial support, new laws, support from community/ family/ friends, religion, etc.)
  • 2nd part: focuses on challenges HRDs face in their work
    Question(s) to speakers: Who prevents you from advocating for rights in your country and how? What are the main types of attack you and your colleagues have faced in defending human rights in business operations in your country this year?
  • 3rd part: focuses on what they would like to ask from the forum (govts, businesses, investors) - what do they want to see between now and the next forum
    Question(s) to be asked to speakers: What are the main things that you would like to see businesses, investors and governments do in the coming year, that would  improve the safety for and prevent attacks on defenders working for human rights in business in your country, and improve business respect for human rights? 

Format of the session:
The session will open with a question or two to the audience to get them engaged early on. It will then be divided into three parts: the first part will identify ways in which they’ve successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals so far, the second will identify challenges that defenders face in their work, and the third part will outline what they would like to ask from the forum (governments, businesses, and investors) and what do they want to see between now and the next forum. We will leave enough time for interaction with the audience after each segment, so that governments, investors and businesses, can voice their proposals and feedback, and so that defenders and community representatives that won’t get a chance to speak on the panel, will have the opportunity to also share their stories (time permitting). The role of the moderator will be to engage the audience and to summarize the challenges and the demands voiced by the defenders.
In terms of identifying and voicing expectations, the speakers and the moderator will, to the extent possible, surface and built upon existing demands, such as the Action plan from the World HRDs Summit, the joint statement from 40+ civil society organizations from 2016, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ reports on the topic and other relevant material.

Background to the discussion:
Business and civil society operate in and benefit from a “shared space” defined by common, fundamental elements. The rule of law and freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential to the realization of all human rights, to good governance and accountable institutions. These elements are also critical to stable, profitable and sustainable business environments in which companies thrive and economies prosper. Standards and practices have evolved over the last two decades to encourage or require companies to respect human rights. Moreover, company engagement and consultation with local communities and stakeholders is overcoming conflict and confrontation in places and ways that encourage further progress. However, this shared space is under threat, not least through a sustained and growing attack on defenders wherever businesses have failed to comply with and respect due diligence national laws, standards and national and international human rights protocols. Alarmingly, in the last decade, HRDs have increasingly come under massive attack. Since 2015, there have been over 1,300 attacks on HRDs working human rights issues related to business, including almost 400 killings. Workers were exposed to physical violence and threats in 65 countries in 2018 and trade unionists were murdered in nine countries in the first half of that year. Journalists are increasingly being imprisoned and attacked – 262 journalists were imprisoned in 2017 and 29 journalists have been killed in 2018. Civicus data indicates that only 3% of people on the planet live in countries with truly ‘open civic space’. These pressures and attacks undermine the legal and institutional frameworks upon which both business and civil society depend. For the business and human rights agenda to continue moving forward, defenders, and the civic freedoms they need to do their work, must be recognized as a vital and inescapable part of ensuring human rights respect in business operations. Defenders cannot play that role without solid guarantees of safety and security. States have primary role in ensuring corporates respect constitutional frameworks and set in place governance machinery, regulatory mechanisms, legal and policy structures and resources as well as place the upholding of human rights and well-being of all its citizens at the core of its development economy.


Moderator/ Introductory Remark...
avatar for Debbie Stothard

Debbie Stothard

Secretary-General / Coordinator, FIDH/ ALTSEAN-Burma
Debbie Stothard has worked since 1981 in media, academia, community education & human rights in Malaysia, Australia and Thailand. Her work in training grassroots communities and advocacy is focused on women's leadership, atrocity prevention, and business and human rights.

Speakers
SK

Saeeda Kathoum

spokes-person, Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association
avatar for Olman Waldermar Mendoza

Olman Waldermar Mendoza

Olman represents his fellow students and his community of San Jose de la Maquina in Western Guatemala. Though he has returned to his studies, Olman is a former child labourer who will share about the realities he and other young people like him face accessing education, working from... Read More →
avatar for Emmanuel Umpula

Emmanuel Umpula

Directeur, AFREWATCH
M. Umpula Nkumba Emmanuel, est directeur et fondateur de Afrewatch (AFREWATCH), il est juriste et travaille depuis 2002 à la défense et la promotion des droits de l'homme en RDC et en Afrique sur les entreprises et les droits de l'homme. Pendant son parcours, il a occupé plusieurs... Read More →


Monday November 26, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am
Room XX