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Respecting human rights defenders and civil society

Space for civil society is critical for responsible businesses to thrive. Human rights defenders play an important role.

Every person around the world deserves to be treated with dignity and equality. Basic rights include freedom of speech, privacy, health, life, liberty and security, as well as an adequate standard of living.

Businesses must act with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others. This means they must address any negative human rights impacts related to their business. They must also abide by international standards and avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their activities and relationships.

Beyond these minimum requirements, companies can make voluntary, positive contributions to support human rights. For example, they can create diverse and inclusive workplaces, invest in communities and public policy advocacy, and engage employees and communities to promote collective action. While these types of actions to support human rights are encouraged, they do not substitute for basic respect for human rights.

Human rights defenders

‘Human rights defenders’ (defenders) is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. They may be community leaders, leaders of faith-based groups, Indigenous Peoples, trade union representatives, lawyers, journalists or people who work for (non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organisations. In some cases, they may be government officials or work in the private sector.

Defenders can have any professional background and their actions to promote or protect human rights can vary widely, including public protest, commentary and campaigning. Alarmingly, in some parts of the world, defenders face harassment and fear for their safety when they speak out against development projects, including mines. Space for civil society to operate freely is also shrinking in many parts of the world. This is deeply concerning for companies that are committed to human rights, openness and transparency.

Threats, harassment or attacks on defenders raising concerns against mining projects can become a significant reputational or potentially legal risk. Conversely, civil society organisations and defenders can provide a valuable resource for companies in conducting human rights due diligence – they can help identify potential human rights impacts and be a useful source of intelligence and key critical friend.

ICMM recognises that space for civil society, including critical voices, helps to create long-term value, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.

Strengthening operational capacity

ICMM company members commit to implement policies and practices that are designed to eliminate harassment and unfair discrimination in all their activities. They also commit to respect the human rights (including freedom of association and assembly) and the interests, cultures, customs and values of employees and communities.

To this end, ICMM actively engages in international forums on business and human rights in order to ensure ongoing focus and partnerships on critical business and human rights issues, and to support embedding respect for human rights across the industry. This includes participation in the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders (the Business Network). This is a group of companies and investors from a range of sectors who meet to share experiences, challenges and successes relating to business action for civic freedoms and human rights defenders.