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Ryerson CSR Workshop: Business Support for Human Rights Defenders

October 15, 2018
11:00 AM EDT - 2:00 PM EDT
Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, 55 Dundas St. West, Toronto [9th floor, room TRS 3-129]

Private Sector Support for Human Rights Defenders: A Primer for Canadian Businesses

Drawing on the consultations and discussions undertaken through the Ryerson CSR Institute, with support from Global Affairs Canada/Trade Commissioner Service, the following 2 page "CSR Snapshot' on Private Sector Support for Human Rights Defenders was developed. We would like to thank the many individuals and organizations who participated in the sessions and provided comments leading to the preparation of the snapshot document. It is also accessible at: 

English Version: View Webpage (external link)  /  (PDF file) Download Document

French Version: View Webpage (external link)  /  (PDF file) Download Document


Private Sector Support for Human Rights Defenders: A Primer for Canadian Businesses

Drawing on the consultations and discussions undertaken through the Ryerson CSR Institute, with support from Global Affairs Canada/Trade Commissioner Service, the following 2 page "CSR Snapshot' on Private Sector Support for Human Rights Defenders was developed. We would like to thank the many individuals and organizations who participated in the sessions and provided comments leading to the preparation of the snapshot document. It is also accessible at: 

English Version: View Webpage (external link)  /  (PDF file) Download Document

French Version: View Webpage (external link)  /  (PDF file) Download Document

This workshop is co-sponsored by the Ryerson Corporate Social Responsibility Student Association, the Ryerson Commerce and Government Association, and the Ryerson Law and Business Student Association, and is supported by the Trade Commissioner Service of Global Affairs Canada.

Ryerson University’s Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR Institute) is pleased to hold a Workshop Exploring New Business-Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Guidance. The goals of the workshop are (1) to develop a better understanding of the role of the private sector in supporting and protecting HRDs and (2) to provide practical guidance for Canadian businesses in supporting HRDs.

The workshop will feature presentations by Andy Hall (activist, human rights defender) Anita Ramasastry (UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights), and Bennett Freeman (Principal of Bennett Freeman Associates), and commentary from Canadian government, private sector and civil society experts.  Andy will be discussing his experience (external link)  being the subject of civil and criminal lawsuits to suppress his research on human rights abuses in Thailand's migrant labour intensive pineapple, seafood and poultry exporting industry, and the subsequent defence of his right to make such allegations that were supported by private sector and other actors. Anita will be discussing soon-to-be-released Human Rights Defender-supportive guidance (external link)  developed by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and Bennett will be discussing  (PDF file) newly-released business guidance concerning support for civic freedoms and Human Rights Defenders that he has developed on behalf of three organizations (more details below).  Investor perspectives (Delaney Greig - SHARE), governmental perspectives (Georgina Galloway - Global Affairs Canada) and civil society perspectives (Marianna Belalba Barreto - CIVICUS) will then be provided. In addition, development of a summary document on private sector support for HRDs will be discussed (Kernaghan Webb - Ryerson University).  More information about the event and the speakers is provided below.

This session is the third in a series of multi-stakeholder discussions and consultations facilitated by the Ryerson CSR Institute and supported by Global Affairs Canada, that are exploring support for the work of Human Rights Defenders. 

About Human Rights Defenders, their Need for Support, and the Workshop 

It has been reported that in 2017 (external link)  over 312 human rights defenders were murdered, up from 281 in 2016 (external link) , and 157 in 2015 (external link) . Of the 312 HRD fatalities in 2017, reports indicate that 67% "were defending land, environmental and indigenous peoples' rights (external link) , nearly always in the context of mega projects, extractive industry and big business."  According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (external link) , over 25% of attacks are against indigenous people, even though indigenous persons make up only 5% of the world population, 33% of attacks on indigenous defenders are killings, and female indigenous defenders are more likely to be attacked than female rights defenders in general.  In short, in a distressing number of situations, HRDs continue to face attempts to suppress or intimidate their voice when they publicly make known a potentially problematic human rights issue, such as expressing concern that a community supply of fresh water is under threat, or that the voices of indigenous groups are not are not being adequately heard, or that the safety of workers is in jeopardy. 

As noted in the  (PDF file) UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (external link) , governments have a primordial duty to protect human rights, and as part of this, a duty to protect those who may be the subject of unacceptable acts of suppression when they speak out on potentially problematic human rights practices. For example, the Government of Canada has published its its Voices at Risk guidelines (external link)  spelling out government support of HRDs and is taking actions consistent with the guidelines.  Beyond the government duty to protect human rights, under the Guiding Principles, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, and to exercise due diligence to ensure that their activities do not negatively impact on the human rights of stakeholders.

In this regard, leading private sector entities are taking explicit action to support HRDs. At the workshop, Andy Hall will be describing the various industry associations and companies (and others) that assisted in the defence against civil and criminal lawsuits intended to suppress his Thailand human rights research.  Beyond the Thailand experience, companies like  (PDF file) adidas (external link)  and Coca Cola (external link)  have developed explicit policies in support of human rights defenders, and associations such as the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM (external link) ), the Ethical Initiative Trading Initiative (ETI (external link) ) have all spoken out and/or taken actions in support of HRDs.  ICMM has noted (external link)  that "[d]efenders continue to face harassment and fear for their safety when they speak out. This is deeply concerning for companies that are committed to human rights, openness and transparency. While we may not always agree with positions taken by human rights defenders, ICMM recognises freedom of expression and assembly as fundamental human rights.....our members are committed to implementing policies and practices designed to eliminate harassment and unfair discrimination in all our activities, and respect human rights and the interests, cultures, customs and values of employees and communities affected by our activities."

The leadership role of the private sector, joining governments and civil society actors in speaking out and acting in support of human rights defenders, has never been more clear nor more pressing.

The Ryerson CSR Institute, working with Global Affairs Canada, is undertaking a series of multi-stakeholder sessions exploring ways for business to support the activities HRDs. A preliminary awareness-raising session was held on September 29, 2017.  A second, more in-depth information session was held on March 7, 2018. The upcoming October 15 session is the third discussion of the topic represents a move from awareness-raising and information-gathering to more of a hands-on, practical, implementation phase, focusing on what can Canadian companies do in light of emerging international guidance.

Marianna Belalba Barreto.  A Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS, Marianna is originally from Venezuela.  She holds a law degree from Andrés Bello Catholic University and an LLM in International Human Rights from University of Notre Dame. Marianna worked at a human rights organization in Caracas for 5 years on issues regarding freedom of expression and access to information and also has worked in civil society organizations in Mexico and South Africa, focusing specifically on issues regarding civil and political rights.

Bennett Freeman. Over the last 18 years of a 36 year career, Bennett Freeman has worked at the intersection of governments, international institutions, multinational corporations, responsible investors and NGOS to promote human rights and sustainable development around the world.  He is currently Principal of Bennett Freeman Associates LLC; Senior Advisor to BSR, Senior Advisor to Critical Resource; and a Strategic Partner of RESOLVE; he is also Chair of the Advisory Board of Global Witness; Board Secretary of the Global Network Initiative; and a member of the Governing Board of the Natural Resources Governance Institute.  ‎Freeman was Senior Vice President for Sustainability Research and Policy at Calvert Investments from 2006-15 and served as a Clinton presidential appointee at the US Department of State in three positions, including as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  In August 2018, following an extensive consultation period involving interviews with over 90 businesses, Freeman completed  (PDF file) Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders -- Guidance for Companies (external link) , on behalf of the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, International Service for Human Rights and the B-Team for the new Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders.  Freeman will be speaking about this new guidance at the workshop.  

Georgina Galloway. Georgina is Deputy Director for the Responsible Business Practices unit with Global Affairs Canada which includes responsibility for Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy and the announced creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise as well as the multi-stakeholder Advisory Body on Responsible Business Conduct.  Underpinning economic diplomacy, the unit leverages Canada’s CSR Strategy to outline expectations for corporate behaviour, provides resources for adherence to internationally respected guidelines and manages recommended consequences leading to withdrawal of government support when companies do not act in good faith with Canada’s voluntary dispute resolution mechanisms. Georgina has previously led change management for the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) Regional Offices serving clients across Canada and policy for the Department’s International Education Strategy. Before joining the Department, she spent fifteen years managing international education initiatives in the university sector and served as Chair of the Canadian Higher Education Committee for the Council of International Schools.

Delaney Greig. Delaney is the Manager, Engagement and Policy at the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE).  Delaney holds degrees in civil and common law from McGill University and a masters in political economy from the University of Toronto. Prior to her work at SHARE, Delaney did legal and policy research for First Nations, the Government of Canada and national and international non-governmental organizations. Her work seeks to understand and address the challenges that arise at the intersection of business interest, human rights and environmental concern.

Andy Hall. Andy lived in Thailand from 2005 - 2016 after taking leave from a PhD in corporate criminal responsibility. He became a migrant worker rights specialist during this time working as a human rights defender and researcher to ensure increased migrant worker access to rights, empowerment and remedies for exploitation in global supply chains exporting across the world from Thailand. From 2009, Andy was an international affairs advisor to the Migrant Worker Rights Network. In 2016, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison following a trial for criminal defamation and computer crimes concerning his role in researching a report on migrant conditions in Thailand's food export industry. His conviction was suspended for two years, but was met with statements of concern by a variety of inter-governmental bodies. Andy left Thailand at the end of 2016 following new criminal prosecutions launched against him as a result of his campaigning to improve migrant worker conditions in Thailand's poultry export industry. He currently lives in Nepal and is focusing on promoting ethical recruitment of migrant workers in South and SouthEast Asia.

Anita Ramasastry. Anita is a member of the UN OHCHR Working Group on Business and Human Rights and is the Roland L. Hjorth Professor of Law and the Director of the Graduate Program in Sustainable International Development at the University of Washington School of Law.  From 2009-2012, Ramasastry served as a senior advisor to the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce.  Ramasastry has advised many intergovernmental and civil society organizations including the World Bank, USAID, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, BSR, Amnesty International and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable. Ramasastry is a graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Law School and the University of Sydney. It is expected that in advance of the workshop the UN OHCHR Working Group on Business and Human Rights will have completed draft guidance on government and business support for human rights defenders (external link)  in the early fall. Ramasastry will be speaking about this guidance.

Kernaghan Webb.  Kernaghan is an Associate Professor of Law and Business in the Department of Law and Business at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management, and is the Director of the Ryerson University Institute for the Study of CSR.  He holds Bachelor's, Masters and Doctorate degrees in Law. His work has been cited and followed by the Supreme Court of Canada. He has acted as a special advisor to United Nations Global Compact on the ISO 26000 standard, he has chaired numerous international standards working groups, he has been a board member of several civil society organizations, he has advised and prepared reports for numerous inter-governmental, governmental, private sector and non-government bodies and is currently the co-chair of the federally established CSR Centre for Excellence for the Extractive Sector. In 2012, Dr. Webb was the recipient of the National Award of Excellence from the Standards Council of Canada. Prior to commencing his full time teaching at Ryerson University, Dr. Webb was the Senior Legal Policy Advisor and Chief of Research at the federal government's Office of Consumer Affairs. He currently teaches corporate social responsibility and the law, and law of the marketplace.