It’s Friday and time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.
This week’s post includes: a new report from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; reviews of the latest round of conflict minerals reports; corporate efforts to address the risks of sex and labor trafficking in connection with the Olympic Games; and murder charges in Bangladesh tied to the Rana Plaza collapse.
- In his most recent report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, noted that “[t]he contemporary exercise of freedom of opinion and expression owes much of its strength to private industry, which wields enormous power over digital space, acting as a gateway for information and an intermediary for expression.” The Special Rapporteur noted his intent to conduct a multi-year study examining the responsibilities of companies in the face of government demands for censorship and access to data. At the same time, the Special Rapporteur observed that “[a]mong the most important steps that private actors should take is the development of implementation of transparent human rights assessment procedures.”
- In late July, a court in Bangladesh charged 38 people with murder in connection with the factory collapse at Rana Plaza in April 2013 that led to the deaths of 1,135 people. Those charged include factory owners and government officials. The charges were noted by labor and human rights advocates as an important, and long-delayed, effort to hold people accountable for the industrial disaster. At the same time, advocates have noted the many ongoing challenges faced by both survivors of the collapse and labor activists in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of readymade garments in the world.
- The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have focused attention on the efforts of hospitality companies to mitigate the risk of sex trafficking as well as the efforts of companies in a range of industries to address labor trafficking. As one recent article notes, “[t]he 2016 Olympic Games represents a major opportunity — for both traffickers and the groups that fight them.” The U.S. State Department’s most recent 2016 Trafficking in Persons report noted that, in 2015, labor inspectors in Brazil had uncovered cases of workers who had been trafficked in order to work on the Olympic village. Several articles have focused on the efforts of hotel chains like Marriott to train hotel personnel to recognize and report signs of sex trafficking in the many hotels surrounding the Olympic venues. In preparation for the Games, Marriott’s hotel associates in Rio completed a new human rights training program developed by the hotel chain and ECPAT-USA, with assistance from Polaris.
- This was the third year that companies filed conflict minerals reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Since the May 31 deadline for this year’s filings, a number of studies have been released analyzing the 1200+ reports that were filed. In general, companies have been able to say more each year with regard to the source of the minerals used in their products, especially as they have also reported significantly higher supplier response rates. Companies in the apparel and electronics industries reported the highest overall supplier response rates. Notably only 19 companies reported that they had undergone an independent private sector audit with regard to products asserted to be “conflict free.”
- A recent report by several Australian human rights organizations highlights links between the financial sector and privately run detention centers used to house people seeking asylum in Australia. The detention centers, which are located on Manus Island and Nauru in the South Pacific, have been the focus of international attention due to numerous allegations and findings of serious human abuses. Citing recent numerous efforts by members of the international community, including the OECD, UNEP-FI, and the Thun Group of Banks, to examine the human rights responsibilities of banks, the report calls on the investors and financiers who have financed the operator of the detention centers “to end the business relationships that associate them with the gross human rights abuses” taking place.
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