In March 2016, Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her home, shot in her bedroom. Berta was one of the most prominent environmental defenders in Honduras and an inspiring advocate for human rights. She was defending her community and the environment, standing up to corporate exploitation, and she paid with her life.
A Honduran company was constructing a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, sacred to the local community. Berta and her community were against this development that would damage their river, and that was being implemented without their consent. The project had received millions of euro in funding from EU investors from the Netherlands and Finland.
The murder of Berta Cáceres is not a unique once-off event. It is part of a shocking pattern of killings of human rights defenders, with hundreds of people being killed every year for trying to stop corporations damaging their communities. Indeed in the final days of 2020, two more indigenous activists in Honduras were murdered for defending people and the planet from the actions of big business.
The involvement of EU corporate interests in the abuse of human rights is also not unique to Berta’s case. Companies and banks in the EU are having a devastating impact in countries when they invest in projects that disregard the rights of people who are most affected by these, as with Berta’s community.
One example is close to home, for decades the ESB in Ireland has bought coal from the notorious Cerrejón mine in Colombia. Communities next to the mine have suffered from chronic poor health, contaminated water, and have faced fear and intimidation when they have tried to oppose the multi-billion dollar mining industry. The UN expert on human rights and the environment has called the human rights situation at this mine as one of the most disturbing situations that he has encountered.
Research by Trinity College Dublin has also shown that Ireland is a base for the top five global software companies, 14 of the top 15 medical technology companies, 18 of the top 25 financial services companies, all of the top ten pharmaceuticals companies and eight of the top ten industrial automation companies. Yet 50% of companies in their recent study scored less than 20% on their human rights policies and practice, with 34% scoring zero on embedding respect for human rights and due diligence.
Essentially, business needs to be cleaned up when it comes to human rights and the environment. Corporations are not being held legally responsible for their actions and therefore continue to operate with no accountability while affected communities struggle for justice and compensation.