Research Handbook on Human Rights and Business
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Research Handbook on Human Rights and Business

Edited by Surya Deva and David Birchall

This authoritative Research Handbook brings together leading international scholars and practitioners to provide in-depth analysis of some of the most hotly debated topics and issues concerning the interface of human rights and business. Offering critical insights on prominent strands of research within the field of business and human rights, this comprehensive Research Handbook examines key challenges and potential solutions in the field.
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Chapter 20: The role of civil society and human rights defenders in corporate accountability

David Birchall


This chapter reviews the role of civil society and human rights defenders in holding corporations to account. Civil society plays numerous roles in corporate accountability. It is civil society that is often first to take heed of a situation, first on the ground, and first to expose the issue to the wider public. The mobilization of civil society therefore often foreshadows shifts in both legal and business practices. Civil society uses a wide variety of tactics, from engagement in multistakeholder regulation and intracorporate consultancy and collaboration, through to exposing wrongdoing and organizing protests. The chapter takes a broad understanding of the definition of civil society, allowing it to introduce a range of actors including, inter alia, benchmarking organizations, labour movements, public interest law groups and shareholder activists. Human rights defenders are viewed more narrowly to focus on those at the dangerous frontlines of human rights protection. Case studies of Pavel Sulyandziga in Russia and Berta Cáceres in Honduras are used to demonstrate the evident risks from both state and private sector actors. The chapter also discusses some of the tactics business uses to weaken civil society participation, and concludes with a discussion of the rationales and possibilities for more positive engagement by businesses in protecting the protectors of human rights.

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