International Corporate Accountability Roundtable

Interactive Workshops Part II – Day II

Making Defender Protections a Top Priority: Tackling Threats Facing Environmental and Land Defenders in Agribusiness

Time:    4:15 PM to 5:30 PM

Room:   N102


  • Corinna Gilfillan, Global Witness (facilitator)

  • Keith Slack, EarthRights International (ERI) (facilitator)

  • Gaurav Madan, Friends of the Earth, United States

  • Lela Stanley, Global Witness

  • Eric Gottwald ILRF on palm oil session led by Corinna and Keith 

Background Information

Land and environmental defenders across the globe are being threatened, attacked, or killed for protecting their land and communities from large corporations, paramilitary groups and their own governments.  The violence against these courageous defenders continues to rise, with a record number killed in 2017.  The agribusiness sector, which includes coffee, palm oil and fruit plantations, is now the most dangerous sector for defenders and where the most killings are reported.   

The failure of companies to act responsibly is a major factor behind many of these crimes.  There are several voluntary guidelines for the business sector that include measures to protect defenders and respect human rights.  However, these guidelines have yet to be implemented effectively and have failed to translate into meaningful changes in company behavior to improve the situation on the ground.[1]

This workshop will highlight the threats posed to land and environmental defenders and the urgent need for greater action by companies and public officials to support and protect environmental defenders and address the root causes of the violence.  The workshop will focus on the agribusiness sector, with particular attention to the palm oil sector, since it is the most dangerous sector for defenders.  We will aim to come out of the workshop having identified the top three actions that companies and investors must take to combat this problem. We will also identify possible strategies for how NGOs and the ICAR community can collectively pressure companies and investors to act and brainstorm ideas for legislation to combat this problem. 

Some questions we will consider as part of our discussion:  

  • What actions by companies and investors will have the greatest impact in protecting defenders, addressing the root causes of the violence and ensuring that communities are involved in decision making?

  • What campaigning strategies are most effective to pressure companies and investors to act?

  • What should legislation require companies and investors to do in order to help address the threats facing defenders?


Existing voluntary guidelines include: the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries and Forestry in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) and the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.