Investors call for urgent corporate action to address rising threats faced by human rights defenders

Apr 24th 2018

Indigenous and human rights defenders in Philippines accused of terrorism by local government seen as immediately at risk. 

NEW YORK, NY, TUESDAY, APRIL 24TH, 2018 – The Investor Alliance for Human Rights released a statement today calling on companies to make commitments to protect human rights defenders, and specifically, take immediate action to ensure the protection and physical safety of indigenous rights defenders currently at risk in the Philippines. 

The statement was endorsed by 68 institutional investors and is in response to an uptick in attacks on individuals and groups defending against the adverse human rights impacts of corporations globally, including a specific threat against two human rights defenders working in the Philippines who have been wrongfully accused by the government of terrorism. 

According to the statement, between 2016 and 2017, researchers identified a 34% global rise in attacks against human rights defenders, and in 2016 alone at least 200 land and environmental rights defenders were murdered, making it the deadliest year for these defenders to date. 

Of special concern was a recent and flagrant attack against defenders in the Philippines, where renowned indigenous leaders and human rights defenders Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Joan Carling, co-convener of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were declared terrorists by the government of Rodrigo Duterte, placing their lives in jeopardy.  

The investors argue that companies and financial institutions have a responsibility to review their operations, supply chains and policies to identify  real and potential negative impacts on human rights defenders, and take meaningful action to address them, including denouncing any acts by governments that restrict the legitimate work of defenders.  

Said Paloma Muñoz Quick, Program Director for the Investor Alliance, “Defenders are instrumental in uncovering potential human rights impacts of business – information, which, if shared with companies and investors, constitutes a first step to preventing these abuses. To ensure that this critical work continues unimpeded, it is critical that safety protocols for defenders are adopted by both governments and corporations.” 

The most dangerous sectors for defenders are in land-intensive industries, including mining, agribusiness, oil and gas, renewables and forestry. Defenders working to address human rights abuses in information and communications technology and garment manufacturing also face risks. 

In terms of geography, the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders in 2017 were in Latin America, specifically, Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Honduras. However, human rights defenders face attacks globally, including in the United States. 

“We need look no further for examples of the threats human rights defenders face than the 2017 protests led by members of the Standing Rock reservation protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL),” said Pat Zerega of Mercy Investment Services. “Companies need to manage these risks proactively to ensure that impacted communities and defenders’ rights are respected.” 

The statement outlines specific actions companies can take to ensure safeguards are in place to protect defenders including:

  • Assess the situation of civic freedoms and human rights defenders in the countries in which they operate, identifying gaps between international standards and national laws and practice;
  • Ensure that their policy commitments on human rights reflect the critical role that defenders play in bringing human rights issues to their attention and address the risks they face in doing so.

Financial institutions are further urged to:

  • Include in ex ante impact assessments an analysis of the state of civic freedoms in the country of investment as well as the lender’s track record of engaging with defenders;
  • Withhold approval for investment where impact assessments reveal serious threats to civic freedoms and defenders at the country or local level. 

Investors and civil society allies of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights will use the statement and recommendations in their ongoing engagements with companies in high-risk sectors.


About the Investor Alliance for Human Rights
In light of growing challenges to human rights around the globe, coordinated investor action is needed to ensure companies uphold their responsibility to respect human rights, and that state actors create environments that enable responsible business conduct. To help meet this challenge, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights provides a constructive engagement platform for investors to increase their leverage and capacity on human rights and business risks through targeted action, multi-stakeholder engagement and education. 


Susana McDermott

ICCR, Director of Communications


[email protected]