Since 2018 we have been working closely with law firm Simmons & Simmons on a resource for defenders working on issues regarding business and human rights.

The Human Rights Defenders Toolbox is the first centralised online resource for rural communities and lawyers dealing with corporate human rights violations (also available in Spanish). Throughout 2020 PBI UK and Simmons and Simmons rolled out a capacity building programme for human rights defenders at risk through a series of webinars connected to the Toolbox. Capacity Building Webinar Series on the Toolbox.





It comprises a range of legal fact sheets designed to inform and assist human rights defenders in their struggles to uphold the rule of law in the face of corporate aggression. The launch could have a global impact as the Toolbox draws on international law and has universal application.

The fact sheets focus on the obligations of companies to respect human rights, as set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The project seeks to address the fact that, despite the existence of these principles, gaps in their implementation mean that human rights defenders confronting corporate interests still face escalating violence.

The Human Rights Defenders Toolbox project was initiated by Colombian lawyers from the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) with the support of PBI UK. Since the 2016 Colombian Peace Accords, CCAJAR has observed an upward trend in violence against human rights defenders caused by an increase in threats from conflicting business interests. CCAJAR has identified an urgent need for organisations to assist defenders to build their capacity so they can act as watchdogs to ensure that companies adopt responsible business practices. Former president of CCAJAR and human rights lawyer, Luis Guillermo Pérez visited the UK and met with PBI UK and lawyers from Simmons & Simmons to consult on the production of these fact sheets.

In partnership with Simmons & Simmons, we produced the first centralised online resource for rural communities and lawyers dealing with corporate human rights violations: the ‘Human Rights Defenders Toolbox’, comprised of 16 factsheets and video materials in English and Spanish. We are pleased to report that this toolbox, and our partnership with Simmons & Simmons  was shortlisted for the 2019 Law Society Excellence in Pro Bono Award.

The toolbox comprises 16 fact sheets on a range of legal topics, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, with specific recommendations for human rights defenders denouncing corporate abuse. It covered a variety of pertinent themes, including free, prior, and informed consent.

Over the past year, PBI consulted with Colombian lawyers and defenders to gather feedback on the factsheets and adapt them accordingly. Since the launch of this toolbox, Simmons & Simmons has provided continued legal expertise, funding, as well as support and solidarity for human rights defenders they have met during PBI Speaker Tours in the UK.

The toolbox was piloted in Colombia and Honduras and feedback incorporated into the training programmes of defenders working on business and human rights within a range of local networks. Accessible training manuals based on the factsheets are being produced for peasant and indigenous communities facing corporate abuse, so they can benefit from the expertise and content of the toolbox. The first training manual for community based defenders was produced on the theme of free, prior, and informed consent, it has a specific focus on Guatemala and can be found here. This popular bulletin format of the fact sheet was funded by Matrix Chambers.

The Simmons & Simmons press release on the launch of the Toolbox can be read here.

Read Due diligence, tenure and agricultural investment: A guide to the dual responsibilities of private sector lawyers advising on the acquisition of land and natural resources or join us on Wednesday 24th June 2020 to hear from our partners on the importance of pro bono work in protecting the environment.

Check out these podcasts we recorded with Human Rights in Context on the toolbox!