Our revised Human Rights policy, released in December 2017, recognizes the need for us as a company to engage with communities on human rights matters that are important to those communities and the people within them. Those matters are often advanced or articulated by individuals or groups regarded as Human Rights Defenders (HRD).

It, therefore, means that in order to respect the human rights of those affected, we need to also respect the rights of their advocates.

In 1998 the United Nations adopted, by consensus, a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which calls for the support and protection of human rights defenders. Whilst focusing on the role of States, the Declaration also called on all other actors to promote human rights, safeguard democracy and its institutions and not to violate the human rights of others. Drawn from existing international human rights instruments that now make up the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, this expectation to respect the role of human rights defenders now falls on all companies.

A human rights defender can be any individual or group that works to promote the protection and respect of human rights. They can come from any background, or gender, be of any age and be pursuing different interests. Examples include but are not limited to trade union organizers, environmental groups, human rights campaigners, etc. They can be outside a company but may also be amongst its employees. The rights of these human rights defenders are subject to a UN Special Rapporteur. 

In the UN Special Rapporteur’s June 2017 report to the UN General Assembly, an increase in attacks and threats to human rights defenders was reported ranging from economic and social threats to physical attacks including deaths. The Special Rapporteur again called on companies to play an active role in supporting and protecting the role of HRDs. This call to action includes speaking out when HRDs are targeted because of their human rights work and to recognize the critical role they play in bringing Human Rights issues to the attention of the company.

The Coca-Cola Company’s Human Rights Policy is guided by the international human rights principles encompassed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a company we do not interfere in the lawful activities of human rights defenders and urge our independent bottlers to do the same. As a part of the communities where we operate, our aim is to ensure through dialogue with human rights defenders and those that represent them that we are listening to, learning from and considering their views as we conduct our business. 

We also reserve the right, either alone or in collaboration with others, to speak out where we feel the rights and freedoms of HRD’s with whom we engage are impinged upon by the State or its agents for the purpose of restoring the HRD’s ability to act in pursuit of its human rights interests. How that may occur will vary based on the situation and will depend on the extent of any leverage we can bring to correcting the wrong committed against the HRD.

Brent Wilton is director of global workplace rights at The Coca-Cola Company.