Human Rights Defenders speak up on Business and Human Rights

Human Rights Defenders speak up about how business affects human rights on the ground

At the largest UN event on Business and Human Rights, speakers from around the world provide a sobering reality check on situations on the ground and propose solutions. The event included the Forum’s first-ever speaker under 18 years-old.

26 November – GENEVA – One of the opening sessions of the 2018 Forum on Business and Human Rights brought together four human rights defenders and community representatives, speaking about real-life human rights abuses involving business activities. Members of the Voices from the Ground panel discussed the hardships faced in their communities, disease from water contamination, land grabbing, generational poverty, lack of education for children and youth and even death from working conditions or from threats to those who attempt to defend their rights.

Surya Deva, Vice Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, highlighted that more than naming and shaming about specific incidents, the cases shared by the panel represent the realities faced by communities globally and stressed that “Despite progress that has been made in implementing UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, these cases show what needs to be acted upon in the future.”

Emmanuel Umpula from African Resources Watch, echoed this sentiment and asked for change to “go faster! It is important for us on the ground,” imploring companies to deepen their respect for human rights in their activities and governments to improve implementation of national laws.

“Often best practice does not trickle down to the most vulnerable communities,” reminded moderator Debbie Stothart, FIDH, “All your voices from the ground are equally important as all of the leaders from corporations and head of States who have sat here in the same room – especially when you are suffering the irreversible and long-term impact of violations of your rights.”

A historic step for access and children’s rights for the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

Olman Waldemar Mendoza Perez, 17, joined the Voices from the Ground session as the first-ever speaker who is under 18 years-old at the Forum. Moderator Debbie Stothard commented that, “when we were here in 2012 for the first UN Forum, Olman was only 11 years-old and he was working in the agricultural industry.”

Olman explained that over 70% of children in Guatemala are in situations of child labour and the vast majority of them working in agriculture, driven to do so by poverty. He called for support to attend university to successfully enter the workforce as professionals, and to continue to be heard by decision makers at fora like the UN Forum on Business and Human Right.

At the 2018 Forum, two young people from western Guatemala, Olman Mendoza, 17, and Marta Lidia Lima, 21, are sharing their experiences on access to education, child labour and decent work for young people in agricultural communities. Ms. Glenda Ochoa, Director of Social Welfare from the Ministry of Labour of Guatemala will also join and share about concrete models against child labour in Guatemala.

The ECLT Foundation is proud to sponsor all three participants, and applauds the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights for taking a step to increase access and voice for children and young people on these important issues that affect them and their communities.

The 2018 Forum on Business and Human Rights brings together 2,000+ leaders and representatives from governments, businesses, community groups, civil society, UN bodies, academia and the media. It is the world's largest meeting discussing how business can be a driver to promote human rights.

The Voices from the Ground session was convened by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in collaboration with: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-growing (ECLT) Foundation, The African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children's Rights, Global Witness and Rafto Foundation for Human Rights

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