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New report highlights reprisals faced by human rights defenders who cooperate with UN

26 Sep 2017 — "Report highlights rising reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN", 20 Sep 2017 A major new UN report warns that a growing number of human rights defenders around the world are facing reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights... The report... names 29 countries where cases of reprisal and intimidation have been documented...  All the cases highlighted in the report occurred from June 2016 to May 2017 and involved individuals and groups which have cooperated with the UN...“It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their Governments – was to cooperate with UN institutions and mechanisms,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour. “We are aware of cases where individuals we are communicating with have been abducted, detained, held incommunicado, or disappeared,” he added... Gilmour also expressed deep concern over the ongoing situation of a Bahraini human rights defender, Ms. Ebtesam Abdulhusain Ali Alsaegh, who “has reportedly been beaten and sexually assaulted, and remains in detention”... The report urges all States to stop reprisals, investigate existing allegations, provide effective remedies and adopt and implement measures to prevent recurrence.  

Myanmar: Unilever CEO tweets support for Rohingya in Myanmar

20 Sep 2017 — "Unilever responds to rights campaign, commits to Rohingya protection", 1 Mar 2017 [R]ights activists concerned with the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar launched a new strategy in an effort to end the repression characterized by the United Nations recently as tantamount to “ethnic cleansing”. They sought the help of business, and business responded...“After years of trying to get politicians to move on the Rohingya issue, it became clear that they were hesitant because Myanmar is important for investors. We, therefore, decided to instead reach out to companies directly"...On Sunday, Unilever tweeted its commitment as a company to the protection of the Rohingya. One activist noted: “When Paul Polman signed the letter of concern in December, he did it as an individual, not as a representative of Unilever; but with that tweet, Unilever unequivocally took the same stand.” Unilever’s tweet received more likes and retweets than almost anything the company has ever posted... [The] campaign noted that Unilever’s public alignment with the letter Polman signed is a significant step primarily because it commits the company to the protection of the Rohingya and sets a precedent for other companies to follow in using their influence to end atrocities... Update [Sep 2017]: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, posted another tweet in support of Rohingya on Sep 16 2017:

Myanmar: Telenor issues statement expressing grave concern for escalating developments in Rakhine

19 Sep 2017 — "Situation in Rakhine State", 12 Sep 2017 Over the last week, there has been an escalation of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. International organizations have labelled the situation a “humanitarian crisis”, amid a surge of refugees on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Today, Telenor issued the following statement on the dire situation in the region, urging dialogue and engagement among the involved actors. “We view with grave concern the escalating developments in Rakhine, and support the main recommendations in the Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by Kofi Annan. We share the call for open dialogue, and sustained engagement between all actors to chart a positive vision for the future of Rakhine State. Telenor in Myanmar is committed to rolling out mobile network in all states across the country, including Rakhine, and providing mobile and internet access to all people, without discrimination. Telenor Group is committed to respecting human rights in all our markets; equality and non-discrimination is core to who we are as a company.”...For more information about Telenor Group’s operations in Myanmar, follow this link.

Myanmar: Leber Jeweler condemns ethnic cleansing against Rohingya people; encourages cos. to follow suit

14 Sep 2017 — “A textbook example of ethnic cleansing." These are the words used by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights...describing the treatment of the Rohingya people. What is happening right now in Burma (Myanmar) may very well go down in history as genocide should the world fail to act...[T]his is in a country whose de facto leader is Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi...International condemnation is widespread...Aung San Suu Kyi has been unresponsive...Her official office has been dismissive, calling news reports of mass rape by the military "fake news,"...accusing international aid workers trying to assist fleeing refugees of helping “terrorists." Despite international other major group has remained mute; the large number of western corporations that quickly moved into Myanmar immediately following the cessation of sanctions... [I]t is the moral responsibility of business leaders, especially those western companies now working in Burma, to use their voices and their economic influence. They have the means to strongly encourage Myanmar's government to immediately cease this ethnic cleansing operation...For every company that remains silent to the suffering of the Rohingya people and continues forward with business as usual in Burma, they will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Myanmar: Workers demand rehiring & creation of independent labour union

7 Sep 2017 — "Over 200 workers set up barricades around factory," 5 September 2017 Over 200 protesters from DJY Knitting Myanmar Co. Ltd sock factory, stepped up in their strike by building barricades around the factory…. “The factory officials violated the law. They fired us without proper reasons. Now we’re also forced to break the law. We resorted to blockade in search of a better outcome,” worker leader Ko Phyoe Ko Ko Aung told The Myanmar Times…. Workers asked the factory officials to re-hire them at their former positions or to compensate for the loss of jobs…. Over 228 of the sock factory’s workers have been protesting…demanding the rehiring of their worker leader Ko Soe Thura Ko, and the creation of an independent labour union. ...DJY Knitting Myanmar Co. Ltd…has been producing various kinds of socks, including famous brands for export….

Treaty on business & human rights could improve access to remedy for victims, says new report

5 Sep 2017 — This report commissioned by a coalition of eight civil society organizations (ActionAid Netherlands, Brot für die Welt, Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations(SOMO), CIDSE, Friends of the Earth Europe, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Norwegian ForUM for Development and Environment (ForUM)) stresses how a treaty on business and human rights could improve access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses. It proposes seven areas of reform in the draft treaty to address this issue.

Cereal, drinks companies often overlook risk of forced labor in sugarcane: study

31 Aug 2017 — Food and beverage companies face the risk of forced labor in countries where they obtain sugarcane but most fall short in efforts to tackle the problem that threatens millions of workers, according to a study [by KnowTheChain (KTC)]...Sugarcane...can be found in a list of household foods and beverages...and is often harvested by rural migrant workers with machetes who work long hours for low wages in hazardous conditions... The companies studied were Coca-Cola Co., Fomento Economico Mexicano S.A.B de C.V (FEMSA), Monster Beverage Corp., PepsiCo Inc., The Hershey Co., Mondelēz International Inc., Nestlé S.A., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Associated British Foods plc plc (ABF) and Wilmar International Ltd. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and ABF were the only four companies to undertake forced labor risk assessments of sugarcane supply chains in specific countries, the study said.

Commentary: Investors should demand companies they invest in to have anti-slavery policies in place

30 Aug 2017 — "Investors Must Stop Turning a Blind Eye to Slavery," 29 August 2017 [I]t is time to apply [the] discipline [of investor due diligence] to ending modern slavery... Just as investors need to secure against environmental risks, they need to secure against abuse of the people who are working for - or in the supply chain of - the companies they invest in. The risk is real. According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million people around the world are engaged in modern slavery... The United States Department of Labor tracks forced labour in products and recently published its updated list of goods produced by forced labour. The list includes more than 100 products, as diverse as bamboo from Myanmar and electronics from Malaysia... The trigger may be concern about increased compliance risk, or simply a moral compass. Either way, investors should be demanding that the companies they invest in have anti-slavery policies in place and are making serious efforts to roll that policy out across the business. No responsible investor wants to inadvertently support crimes of this gravity. [refers to Fiat, Signal International, and Volkswagen]

KnowTheChain case study: How food and beverage companies tackle forced labour risks in sugar supply chains

29 Aug 2017 — This case study assesses how a sample of 10 chocolate and confectionary manufacturers, beverage companies, and sugar producers address forced labour risks in their sugarcane supply chains. The study follows KnowTheChain’s first food and beverage benchmark, which found a lack of transparency and adequate action to address forced labor in commodity supply chains such as sugarcane. Findings include:  Only a small group of companies have assessed risks and set targets to eradicate forced labor in their supply chains, and all companies in the study need to improve. Workers have few ways to air grievances and no company was able to provide a concrete example of remedy provided to workers when wronged. All companies should take concrete follow-up steps at the country level. However, we found steps taken at that level are limited. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and ABF are the only companies making efforts to understand and assess forced labour risks in their sugarcane supply chains at the country level.  All companies disclose where at least some parts of their sugarcane supply chains are located. Coca-Cola discloses a map that highlights all sourcing countries for its key commodities. However, the company did not follow through on its commitment from 2013 to disclose the names of all its direct sugarcane suppliers within three years. Wilmar is the only company that discloses a list with names and addresses of its sugar suppliers. Additional background on the case study can be found here. 

Factory farming in Asia poses environmental, forced-labour risks

21 Aug 2017 — "Factory farming in Asia poses environmental, forced-labour risks: report" 16 August 2017 …Rapid growth of factory farming in Asia for livestock and seafood poses enormous environmental and forced labor risks…. Half Asia's aquaculture production is from factory farms, said the report published…by Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR)…. "Asia's meat, seafood and dairy industries face a range of badly managed sustainability risks – from emissions to epidemics, fraud to food safety, and abuse of labor," said Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR. promoting large-scale farming for greater efficiency and economies of scale. …The practice has serious environmental repercussions, besides leading to rural job loss and land rights violations…. Asia's factory farms also increase the risk of forced labor of migrants, children and trafficked workers…. Thailand's…seafood sector…showed widespread slavery, trafficking and violence…. …A Thai court dismissed a compensation claim by 14 migrant workers from Myanmar…at a chicken farm that supplied the European Union. "Top producers are working towards developing sustainable production systems, certified through an increasing number of ecolabels," said Coller. "But a general lack of traceability in supply chains has made it evaluate and mitigate these risks."