Wednesday, November 26, 2008

AI Canada: Canada-Colombia trade deal presents serious human rights concerns

Press release from Amnesty International (Canada):

On 21 November 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed a free trade agreement. If the agreement receives the necessary domestic approval in both countries it will then enter into force sixty days later.

Amnesty International and Canadian Council for International Co-operation are deeply concerned that the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia has been signed without regard for the widespread and very serious human rights violations that continue to be the daily reality in Colombia.

Most recently, these have included:

  • Use of excessive force by state security forces against a mobilization of Indigenous people expressing opposition to free trade agreements and other policies they believe impact negatively on their rights.
  • Threats and attacks against land rights activists, particularly in areas of economic interest.
  • Increase this year in threats and attacks on trade unionists; more than 40 have been killed so far this year.
  • Increase in extrajudicial executions by state security forces of civilians, later presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
  • Repeated public statements by President Uribe and other senior officials demonizing trade unions (such as striking sugar workers), Indigenous organizations and other groups that are speaking out about violations of human rights, suggesting links with guerrillas. Such statements have led to threats and violence, including killings. Following the release of critical reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in October, President Uribe publicly accused AI of "fanaticism" and "dogmatism" and the Americas Director of Human Rights Watch of being a "supporter" and an "accomplice" of FARC guerrillas. President Uribe has also demonized members of the Supreme Court investigating links between politicians from the ruling coalition and paramilitaries.
  • Ongoing and extensive links between state security forces and paramilitary death squads which continue to operate despite government claims to ave successfully demobilized them.
  • Ongoing failure to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice; despite several high profile prosecutions, justice remains the exception and impunity the norm, giving a green light to those who abuse human rights.
Going ahead with the Canada Colombia free trade deal without meaningful action to address these concerns risks making the human rights situation much worse.

Earlier this year in a study of the proposed Canada/Colombia trade deal, the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade called on the government to ensure that an independent human rights impact assessment be carried out and that the results of that assessment be dealt with before the free trade deal is signed, ratified or implemented.

Amnesty International and Canadian Council for International Co-operation are gravely concerned that Prime Minister Harper has ignored this recommendation and decided to proceed without due diligence with regard to human rights. It is vital that the Government of Canada proceed no further towards implementation until an independent human rights impact assessment is carried out and the resulting concerns addressed.

Representatives of our organizations are available to offer an assessment of the human rights situation in Colombia, and to highlight our very serious concerns about moving ahead with the free trade agreement at this time.


For more information, please contact:

Beth Berton-Hunter
Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada
416-363-9933 ext. 32

Katia Gianneschi
Media Relations, Canadian Council for International Co-operation
613-241-7007 ext. 311

Film Review -- Los Caidos (The Fallen)

Los Caidos (The Fallen)
Rudy Joffroy
85 minutes

This film uses powerful narrative and visual accounts to explore the explosion of the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in Mexico on February 19, 2006, which resulted in the deaths of 65 miners.

It also exposes the severe mistreatment of miners and indifference to security concerns by the company, Grupo Mexico, and the government. It turns out that miners had complained about a gas leak prior to the explosion.

The corruption of Mexican authorities is widespread. The viewer is witness to the denial of the Vincente Fox government that any fault was to be laid regarding the mine explosion. There is also the supplanting of a legitimately elected union leader with an imposed government puppet. Mayhem culminates in a 152-day strike and occupation of a steel mill. The subsequent eviction results in two dead and 120 injured at the hands of police.

One desperately poor worker explains the pressure that is put on him to work. Before the explosion, when he expressed concern to his employers about safety issues, they said he could put up with these poor conditions or leave. For economic survival, he had no choice; he must work.

The conclusion of the film, marking the hundred-year anniversary of a mine explosion in 1906, epitomizes how little has changed over the course of a century in terms of the treatment and protection of miners.

Business & human rights: Weekly Update - November 26, 2008

From the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre:

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:

Español: ver abajo - Français : voir ci-dessous

* [PDF] Reminder, London 2 Dec: Jody Kollapen, Chair of South African Human Rights Commission, to speak on business & human rights

* PBS report: "Indian Farmers, Coca-Cola Vie for Scarce Water Supply" (video & transcript)

* Chatham House Intl. Law Discussion Group: "Business and Human Rights: Closing the Gaps"

* Dem. Rep. of Congo: Audio & slideshow - the working conditions of Fidele Musaviri, a coltan & cassiterite miner

* Chinese companies & climate change: Carbon Disclosure Project results & CSR Asia commentary

* Electronics industry convenes to address worker rights, environmental & community impacts - SOMO report provides guidance

* USA: Jury retires to consider lawsuit against Chevron alleging involvement in killing of protestors in Nigeria

* India's ship-breaking industry: Open letter from NGO network to India's environment secretary highlights continuing health problems

* Commentary by Robert Senser on the work of UN Special Representative John Ruggie

* Macedonia: Govt. requires OKTA oil refinery to monitor pollution following protests over health impacts

* Equatorial Guinea: UN Special Rapporteur calls on oil firms to avoid abetting rights abuses

* Burmese workers left adrift for months on fishing fleet without food, water - Thai court awards 4.9 million baht to survivors
- NGOs call for compensation for families of 39 workers who died

* ITUC (Intl. Trade Union Confederation) survey of trade union rights violations worldwide - 91 trade unionists killed in 2007

* India: New network helps co-ordinate corporate contributions to disaster relief

* Gulf states: Bahraini newspaper editor says unskilled foreign workers living in conditions "unacceptable to cats and dogs" - calls for action

* Human rights shareholder resolution at Cisco: Commentary

* Economist Intelligence Unit on how improved social, environmental conduct can be profitable

* Español: América Latina: 40 organizaciones sociales se reunen in Honduras para debatir mejoras para trabajadores del sector textil

* Español: Informe Anual de la CSI (Confederación Sindical Internacional) - ataques contra los sindicatos se cobraron 91 vidas en 2007

* Español: La UE creará una red de empresas comprometidas con la igualdad entre hombres y mujeres

* Français : Rapport annuel de la CSI (Confédération Syndicale International) sur des violations des droits syndicaux - 91 syndicalistes assassinés en 2007

* Français : Niger : Controverse autour des retombées de l'or exploité par la Société des mines du Liptako

* Français : Enquête de Vigeo sur la prise en compte volontaire des instruments internationaux par les entreprises européennes

* Français : Une Compagnie aérienne du Costa-Rica, NatureAir, est la première à avoir « zéro » émissions de carbone, selon le PNUE

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Business & human rights: Weekly Update - November 19, 2008

From the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:
Weekly Update: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - 19 Nov 2008

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:

Español: ver abajo - Français : voir ci-dessous

* Blueprint for the next US administration: "How to end impunity for private security and other contractors" (Human Rights First)

* Iraqi Cabinet approves security pact covering jurisdiction over US contractors - awaits final vote by Parliament

* Tanzania: Report says tax evasion by mining companies leading to negative social impacts
- Responses by AngloGold Ashanti, Barrick Gold

* Yahoo! sponsors museum in USA documenting forced labour camps in China

* ILO launches practical handbook for companies on combating forced labour
- Case studies include: Automobile industry & pig iron in Brazil; electronics in China; textiles in Jordan; agriculture in USA

* Dem. Rep. of Congo: Conflict fuelled by tin mining (New York Times)

* "Citizen Nike" - Fortune reviews Nike's efforts to improve its labour conduct

* Latin America: Partnership between Merck, UN, WHO & govts. makes progress toward stopping transmission of river blindness

* US prosecutors draft indictment against Blackwater guards over Sep 2007 Baghdad killings

* Burma: "Business ventures start with military"

* Observer good companies guide assesses FTSE 350, lists top & bottom 20, says "ethics still matter in hard times"
- Includes ranking of mining companies

* Macedonia: Town sues national govt. over 30 years of pollution by smelter

* CSR Asia ranks 20 firms from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, on disclosure of human rights, environmental & other indicators

* Jordan: Intl. Trade Union Confederation alleges serious abuses of workers' rights - criticises conditions in export processing zones

* Open debate: "Migrant workers in the economy: Rights and responsibilities" (London, 20 Nov)

* Job vacancy: Interim Director, Global Network Initiative on human rights in information & communications technology sector (Washington, DC)

* Español: El Salvador: Pobladores preparan demanda contra LaGeo y Enel por "intoxicación masiva"

* Español: Panamá: Sindicatos denuncian a empresas de seguridad que "no cumplen con normas laborales y de seguridad" - 21 guardias han sido asesinados

* Español: UNI Américas lanza campaña a favor de derechos laborales de guardias de seguridad en Paraguay, Chile y Panamá

* Español: Grupo Cortefiel veta a 14 proveedores por no cumplir requisitos de "respeto a los derechos humanos, seguridad y salud"

* Español: México: 500 trabajadores de PEMEX alegan que fueron despedidos por intentar formar sindicato separado

* Español: OIT elabora un manual dirigido a empresas para combatir el trabajo forzado

* Español: Argentina: Banco Provincia inicia la primera banca de microcréditos

* Français : Afrique du Sud : 23 travailleurs dans la sylviculture morts dans un accident de la route - Syndicats appellent à un changement législatif pour sécuriser le transport sur les lieux de travail

* Français : Novethic : "Tata Motors, entre citoyenneté et paternalisme"

* Français : L'OIT publie un manuel pour aider les entreprises à lutter contre le travail forcé

* Français : Les Amis de la Terre saluent l'adoption par Dexia de la première politique sectorielle énergétique d'une banque de financement française

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Business & human rights: Weekly Update - November 12, 2008

From the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:
Weekly Update: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - 12 Nov 2008

CLICK THIS LINK FOR ALL TOP STORIES added past 7 days / Principales noticias / Articles de premier plan:

Español: ver abajo - Français : voir ci-dessous

* Special event in London, 2 Dec: Jody Kollapen, Chair, South African Human Rights Commission, on "Human rights and business: South Africa and beyond"
- Hosted by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - RSVP if you would like to attend

* London Mining Network says BHP Billiton failed to respond to social & environmental concerns at annual meeting - cases from Philippines, Indonesia, Guatemala, Colombia
- BHP Billiton response

* Philippines: CAFOD report on impact of proposed BHP Billiton, AMCOR project on local livelihoods & environment
- BHP Billiton response
- We have tried to contact AMCOR - we will indicate in a future Update if it responds

* 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration: Human rights initiatives by BASF, Barloworld, Novartis, Ketchum, Titan

* Guatemala: Rights Action says human rights impact assessment for Goldcorp is "pre-determined"
- Response by Intl. Alert, peer reviewer of the impact assessment

* IFC, IBLF, UN Global Compact launch process for companies to integrate human rights into social & environmental impact assessments

* "Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste" from US to China - refers to Executive Recycling
- Executive Recycling response

* NGO says Chiquita's political connections in Colombia & USA contribute to stalling of case against firm for payments to paramilitaries
- Chiquita sent a 2007 statement on the paramilitary payments in response

* Philippines: Dole Foods supports communities with health, education, environment programmes (US Department of State report)

* Call for So. Korean companies operating in Vietnam to improve their labour rights conduct

* Nigerians file suit against Shell in Dutch court; allege company was negligent in cleaning up oil spills

* Chile: Barrick Gold announces partnership with 3 NGOs to address poverty in Atacama region

* Jamaica: NGO coalition urges ban on companies' HIV/AIDS tests of potential workers

* NGO report on UK National Contact Point for OECD Guidelines calls for stronger regulation of companies operating abroad

* FairPensions survey of 30 UK asset management firms concludes there is insufficient concern for environmental & social factors

* "International Labor Migration: A Responsible Role for Business" - report by Business for Social Responsibility

* US court says Bhopal water pollution claims against Union Carbide can proceed

* New lawsuit summary profiles: Occidental re alleged complicity with human rights abuses by Colombian Govt.; Coca-Cola re alleged racial discrimination in USA

* Call for papers: "Accountability in a Global Economy", Business Ethics Quarterly - due 1 Dec

* Job vacancy: Policy research assistant, Bretton Woods Project & UK Aid Network (London, deadline 24 Nov)

* Español: Paraguay: ONG denuncia que destrucción de bosque por parte de empresa brasilera Yaguarete Pora podría causar extinción de indígenas aislados

* Español: Colombia: ONG sostiene que "impunidad" de Chiquita en caso de pagos a paramilitares se debe al tráfico de influencias
- Respuesta de Chiquita (en inglés)

* Español: Chile: Barrick Gold anuncia alianza con 3 ONGs para reducir la pobreza en la zona de Atacama

* Español: Ecuador: 2 muertos en empresa Incasa es ejemplo de faltas en medidas de seguridad en fábricas de Quito

* Español: España: Presentan Centro de Información del Comportamiento Empresarial (CICE) - "denunciará" comportamientos "irresponsables" de empresas españolas

* Español: México: Agencia ambiental de Tamaulipas presiona a maquiladora Nieng Sing para que deje de contaminar

* Español: BBVA negará créditos a las empresas que contaminen mucho

* Español: Ecuador: Comunidades indígenas y campesinas piden a Canadá no emprender proyectos mineros a gran escala

* Español: Brasil: Movimientos sociales y ambientales organizan protesta contra conferencia oficial sobre biocombustibles, alegando que éstos "obstaculizan" la soberanía alimentaria y energética

* Français : Confédération générale des entreprises du Maroc : Label pour la responsabilité sociale

* Français : République du Congo: L'OMS lance un appel au secteur privé pour l'amélioration de la situation sanitaire du pays

* Français : Guinée : Certaines sociétés minières mettent en place des programmes VIH/SIDA - plaident pour un partenariat public-privé

* Français : Réouverture du procès contre Union Carbide aux États-Unis pour la pollution des eaux au Bhopal

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Monday, November 3, 2008

New web portal profiles human rights lawsuits against companies

Press Release from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:


Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launches world’s first online portal

profiling human rights lawsuits against companies: humanrights. org/LegalPortal

London, 29 Oct - Today the non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launched a free online portal – the first to bring together and demystify lawsuits from across the world alleging human rights abuses by companies. The portal summarises in non-legal language over 35 cases and the positions of each side, with more cases to be added soon. It also presents special commentaries by experts.

Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Ireland, said: “The Resource Centre’s portal is a unique tool for advocates, victims of abuses, NGOs, business people and others.”


AngloGold Ashanti: sued in South Africa over miners suffering from silicosis

BHP Billiton: sued in Australia and Papua New Guinea over pollution by its mine in Papua New Guinea

Chevron/Texaco: sued in Ecuador, alleging extensive pollution damaging environment and health

Dow/Union Carbide: sued in India and US following the industrial disaster in Bhopal

ExxonMobil: sued in US over alleged complicity in abuses by Indonesian security forces in Aceh

Severstal: sued in Russia for severe pollution by its steel plant; government failed to provide the court-ordered relief; local residents took Russian Government to European Court of Human Rights and won

Shell: sued in US over alleged complicity in killings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists in Nigeria

Trafigura: legal action in UK, France, Netherlands & Côte d’Ivoire regarding dumping of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire, allegedly leading to 17 deaths and the illness of hundreds

Yahoo!: sued in US for handing information to Chinese officials; led to detention & alleged torture of dissidents

Most of these cases are pending; some are finished or settled – the profiles indicate the current status of each. Companies in other profiled lawsuits include: Barclays, Biwater, Blackwater, BP, Cambior, Cape PLC, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Drummond, DynCorp, Firestone, Ford, Freeport-McMoRan, IBM, Mitsubishi, Nike, Occidental, Rio Tinto, Standard Chartered, Talisman, Total, UBS, Wal-Mart.

COMMENTARIES: The portal includes brief, personal commentaries about corporate legal accountability for human rights – citing progress made in various countries, and challenges that remain. The commentaries were specially written for the portal by leading practitioners and experts – including some who have brought lawsuits against companies, and others whose clients are companies.

Michael Smyth, Head of Public Policy at Clifford Chance (UK), remarks in his commentary: “There was a time when business lawyers did not need to know a great deal about human rights law. That is no longer the case…This is now a key boardroom issue…Businesses can sustain major reputational damage where they are associated with infringements of human rights.”

Terry Collingsworth, a lawyer who has sued multinationals in US courts alleging their involvement in human rights abuses overseas, comments: “With a few positive examples of using the Alien Tort Claims Act to hold companies accountable for human rights violations in the global economy…other companies will be deterred from violating human rights out of a fear of substantial legal liability.”

Other commentaries are written by:

Mary Robinson, President, Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative

Argentina: Rodolfo Yanzon, Argentinean Human Rights League Foundation

Denmark: Sune Thorsen, lawyer, Global CSR

Hong Kong: Geoffrey Crothall, China Labour Bulletin

Mexico: Astrid Puentes, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense

Netherlands: Law professor Menno Kamminga, Maastricht University

Norway: Legal expert Mark Taylor, Fafo

South Africa: South African Human Rights Commission. Lawyer Charles Abrahams.

Switzerland: Carlos Lopez, International Commission of Jurists

UK: Lawyer Martyn Day, Leigh Day

USA: Lawyers involved in lawsuits against companies, including Jennifer Green, Michael Hausfeld, Paul Hoffman. Law professors Anita Ramasastry and Beth Stephens.

When asked why this portal was developed, Christopher Avery, Director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, explained: “These precedent-setting cases are so important that they need to be understood not only by legal insiders. We developed this portal because victims, human rights advocates, business people, journalists, shareholders, lawyers, law professors and others told us that they wanted accessible information about these lawsuits. As for the commentaries, they provide remarkable insight into the thinking of leading experts, many of whom have worked on the profiled cases.”

To find the portal, go to: humanrights. org/LegalPortal. The portal is also accessible from the Resource Centre’s homepage.

Our Corporate Legal Accountability Project is made possible by a grant from JEHT Foundation.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tracks the human rights impacts (positive & negative) of 4000 companies in over 180 countries. Issues include discrimination, labour rights, security & conflict zones, killings, torture, displacement, environmental abuses affecting human health, access to medicines, poverty and development. The site is updated hourly and receives 1.5 million hits per month.

Our researchers, 7 of whom are lawyers or legally-trained, are based in Hong Kong, India, South Africa, UK, Ukraine and USA – soon also Senegal. Mary Robinson chairs our 80-member International Advisory Network. Our 20 Academic Partners include leading institutes associated with law schools in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

For further information about the Resource Centre, see the “About us” section of our site: -humanrights. org/Aboutus

SUPPORT THE RESOURCE CENTRE: Please consider making an online donation to help us continue to provide these resources for free: -humanrights. org/Aboutus/ Makeadonation

For additional information, please see humanrights. org or contact Resource Centre staff responsible for the portal:

UK: Sif Thorgeirsson

Manager, Corporate Legal Accountability Project

thorgeirsson@ business- humanrights. org

mobile: +44 774 705 3682

USA: Greg Regaignon

Head of Research

regaignon@business- humanrights. org

tel: +1 909 626 0260

or contact the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre office in London:

contact@business- humanrights. org

tel: +44 20 7636 7774

The Resource Centre thanks its present and past legal interns who assisted our staff with preparation of the case profiles: Sandra Cossart (France), Amila Jayamaha (Sri Lanka), Kellie Johnston (Canada), Danielle McMullan (UK), Silvia Nicolaou García (Spain), Christopher Pogue (USA), Xue Yang (China).