PBI UK and Simmons & Simmons launch toolbox for defenders working on business and human rights

June 2018 -  An innovative new resource for defenders working on issues regarding business and human rights has been produced by law firm Simmons & Simmons in collaboration with PBI UK.

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).

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.

In 2017, environmental defenders were killed at the rate of almost four a week globally, in particular defenders exposing human rights violations in the mining, oil, logging and agribusiness sectors. The Business and Human Rights Resource centre has documented over 850 of cases of human rights adverse practices by corporates.

PBI’s work standing shoulder to shoulder with at-risk defenders has shown us repeatedly how aggressive implementation of extractive, agribusiness and infrastructure projects has become a key driver of conflict situations around the world.

In this context, a campaign is growing among the human rights defenders and NGO communities for the development of a binding UN instrument on business and human rights, to hold corporates accountable for their adverse human rights practices.

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. 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.

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.

Commenting on the release of the Toolbox, PBI UK Director Susi Bascon said: “I am delighted to see this Toolbox being launched on a year when we mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on HRDs and we celebrate the contribution that human rights defenders make to uphold the rule of law, despite the ever-growing risks they face. By creating this Toolbox, Simmons & Simmons lawyers are not only sharing their expertise and in-depth knowledge, but they are also providing defenders at risk and vulnerable communities with essential tools for them to advocate, report and tackle the root causes of conflicts originated in the context of business and human rights.”

The Human Rights Defenders Toolbox, produced by law firm Simmons & Simmons in collaboration with PBI UK, has been nominated for the 2019 Law Society Legal Excellence award for Excellence in Pro Bono.

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