DUBLIN 23 FEBRUARY 2022 – United National Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), Ms. Mary Lawlor, today welcomed the publication by the EU Commission of its proposal on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence but deeply regrets the absence of specific clauses for the protection and empowerment of HRDs.
“While the proposal published today is far from perfect, it is to be welcomed as a new step towards ensuring companies respect human rights and the environment. That being said, the failure of the Commission to include explicit provisions on HRDs is a clear and critical oversight,” said the Special Rapporteur.
Support for human rights defenders is an EU priority, based on Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union, which emphasizes its actions on the global stage should consolidate an support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law. In 2004, the Council of the EU adopted guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders.
Ms. Lawlor had been calling for the Commission to include a specific obligation on companies to take steps to prevent retaliation against HRDs raising concerns about human rights and environmental risks related to their projects, including by actors within their supply chains.
“HRDs are going to be vital to ensuring that this Directive, when it eventually comes into force, proves effective in practice. They will be the ones raising the alarm where due diligence isn’t being carried out effectively and will run great risks when doing so. The Commission needed to consider their protection needs in its proposal,” she said.
Human rights defenders are currently exposed to serious acts of retaliation when raising concerns related to the human rights and environmental impact of business projects, including by EU companies. The NGO Business and Human Rights Resource Centre documented 604 attacks against human rights defenders working on business-related human rights issues in 2020, while the UN Secretary General has also highlighted attacks against human rights defenders who report alleged business abuses to the UN.
Ms. Lawlor also emphasized the role of defenders as key stakeholders for companies to engage with in identifying and assessing human rights and environmental risks as part of the due diligence process, and expressed her disappointment that they had not been explicitly included in the Directive as such.
“Given the knowledge HRDs have of local human rights issues and risks, they should be considered as invaluable allies for companies seeking to operate responsibly. The Commission should have acknowledged this and specifically named defenders as a group with whom companies would be expected to engage,” said the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur expressed her hope that these issues will be considered by the European Parliament and Council in their engagements with the Commission’s proposal.