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Safeguarding Civic Space Business Supporting HRDs to Safeguard the Environment 

13.00-14.30 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 4 June 2021

Click HERE to access the recordings of the RBHR Forum on YouTube

Organised by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)



“Civil society participation is the lifeblood of any healthy democracy and society. When civil society channels flow freely, it means vibrant debate, freedom of thought and opinion, and public engagement in policy.”  (Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).

However, the space for participation in many countries in Asia is shrinking. Repressive laws are spreading, with increased restrictions on freedoms to express, participate, assemble and associate.  New technologies have helped civil society networks to grow, but they have also given authorities excuses to control civil society movements. Attacks on human rights defenders (HRDs) continue and are worsening. Human rights defenders working on environmental protection, protesting land grabs or defending the rights of indigenous peoples appear to be more vulnerable to attacks.. In 2019, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre tracked 572 attacks against human rights defenders focused on business-related activities. 

States have the primary obligation to ensure the rights and protection of HRDs. Businesses also have responsibilities to protect HRDs as set out by the UN Guidng Principles on BHR (UNGPs). The UNGPs clearly establish that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and to address any adverse impact on rights arising from acts or omissions of their own or of their business relationships (principle 11), including the rights of HRDs.

Presently, several companies, multi-stakeholder initiatives, industry associations, private investors, financial institutions and their accountability mechanisms have clarified their stances on HRDs and civic freedoms. However, corporate practices often still  lag behind policy commitments.

Session Description

This session will primarily focus on the role businesses can play to promote civic space and stand up for HRDs in Asia. Discussions will focus on the actions that businesses can take in respect of their own activities, as well as their role in advocating and and establishing requisite policies, practices and stakeholders engagement to contribute to a conducive environment for HRDs’ advocacy. The session will also provide a platform for  businesses to present existing good practices in identifying and preventing potential human rights abuses and violations, thereby facilitating peer-learning. 

Session Objectives

The key objectives of this session are to:


  • Raising awareness of the situation of HRDs working in the context of business and human rights in the region and discuss concrete recommendations on actions needed to protect HRDs.

  • Sharing information concerning tools, good practices and Initiatives from business to safeguard civic space and an environment in which HRDs can operate free from violence, threats, hindrance and insecurity.




Panelists and participants will reflect on the following questions:

  • What is the situation of HRDs working in the area of business and human rights in Asia. Are there promising examples  of businesses standing up for HRDs?   

  • Are there legal frameworks or practical guidance, tools, recommendations for business to safeguard the civic space/ What do the UNGPs say? 

  • To what extent, and under which circumstances, can businesses positively contribute to building or protecting civic space in Asia?  What is the current practice? 

  • What are the specific recommendations  to businesses in different sectors? 

  • What are the recommendations for concrete actions by businesses and investors to address the root causes of violence, criminalization and intimidation affecting HRDs collectively and individually? 

For questions, please contact unrbhrforum@undp.org