Swedwatch Highlights: 2023

In a world grappling with the triple planetary crisis, escalating conflicts and a worsening situation for rights defenders, the need for sustainable business practices is more critical than ever.

Read about Swedwatch's work to advance human rights in business in 2023 and the issues we're addressing going forward.

2023: The business and human rights landscape in figures

Of procurement procedures in the EU still used lowest price as the only award criterion for public contracts.
Of the largest apparel- and extractive companies claimed to conduct human rights due diligence, but only 27% engaged with rightsholders.
In 2023, only 32 states had published a national action plan on business and human rights.
Of citizens from across multiple EU countries want strong laws to hold companies liable for overseas human rights and environmental violations.
Human rights defenders reported being attacked for raising concerns about harmful business practices, between 2015-2023.
Of asset managers said ESG is a high priority, but 64% were concerned about a lack of transparency and corporate disclosure of companies' ESG activities.
People worked in conditions of forced labour, out of which 60% in the private economy.
Children were trapped in child labour, out of which 70% in the agricultural sector.

Pushing for binding regulations

In 2023, Swedwatch celebrated 20 years as a watchdog for sustainable business. With in-depth, evidence-based research, we have exposed human rights and environmental impacts in factories, plantations and mines, and across sectors - from extractives and energy, to textiles and tourism.

While research remains our foundation, building bridges between rightsholders and duty bearers is central to our work. In 2023, we continued to facilitate the attendance of civil society actors to international fora and to create spaces for dialogue between business, rights defenders and civil society.

Against a backdrop of shrinking civic space and continued adverse impacts by business operations on human rights, Swedwatch has relentlessly pushed for binding requirements for companies to conduct human rights due diligence. In 2023, a political agreement on the EU Corporate Responsibility Due Diligence Directive was finally reached, although seriously watered down. Looking ahead, its implementation will be one of Swedwatch's main focus areas.

In our 20 year old journey to advance human rights in business, member organisations, partners and networks have been our esteemed companions. Moving into the future, this collaborative approach will continue to ensure that our work is relevant and impactful in driving systemic change globally. 

Alice Blondel

Director, Swedwatch

A snapshot of our work

Through research, advocacy and capacity exchange, Swedwatch highlights how people and the planet are impacted by unsustainable business practices, to create positive change. Using a rights-based approach, we turn the spotlight to issues and cases that represent systemic challenges across sectors and areas. Below are some examples of work conducted in 2023.

Sustainable public procurement

Sustainable public procurement in the EU

Often referred to as the "missing multiplier" for sustainable development, Swedwatch has for years advocated for the inclusion of social criteria in public procurement in Sweden and the EU.

Activities conducted in 2023 focused on advocacy and knowledge-sharing, highlighting the need for legislative change to leverage the power of sustainable procurement practices.

Go to our webinar recordings on public procurement
Living wages

Time for decent pay for garment workers

A decade after the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, fundamental challenges remain for Bangladesh's garment workers, including a lack of living wages.

In 2023, Swedwatch along with partner organisations continued to investigate working conditions in textile factories, and the purchasing practices of brands and public procurers.

Learn more
Access to remedy

Corporate restructuring vs. the right to remedy

Is a company in breach of its human rights responsibility when it causes or contributes to the denial of remedies by another actor? That was one of the questions explored in an event co-hosted by Swedwatch, on the sidelines of the 2023 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights.

Discussions were framed around the ongoing trial against two former top executives of Lundin Oil, and the acquisition of a majority of the company by Aker BP in 2022.

Watch the recording
Full value chain scope

A little downstream goes a long way

Under international guidelines, businesses are expected to address environmental and human rights risks throughout their entire value chain, including for the distribution, sale and end-usage of products and services. These downstream obligations became one of the key stumbling blocks in the 2023 EU CSDDD negotiations.

To emphasize its importance, Swedwatch published a policy paper demonstrating specific and feasible steps companies could take to prevent and mitigate adverse impacts on people and planet.

Read the paper
Human rights and environmental defenders

Defending land rights in a shrinking civic space

The effects of climate change and an increased demand for minerals and natural resources has exacerbated conflict in many areas, and put the lives of those defending land rights of local communities at grave risk.

In 2023, Swedwatch reinforced its support to land rights defenders in Kenya, Uganda and Liberia through capacity development on how to seek redress, and through advocacy work at the international level.

Human rights trainings

Due diligence capacity building and exchange

Swedwatch has seen a growing demand for capacity development on the issue of corporate responsibility, from partner organisations, business associations and trade unions.

In 2023, trainings were provided to workers' organisations on how to monitor human rights due diligence processes, and to stakeholders in the ready-made garment sector on business and human rights.

Climate action: CSO participation and a fossil free OECD

Acknowledging the importance of civil society participation in high-level climate negotiations, Swedwatch participated in COP28, sharing our accreditation with organisations from Thailand and Kenya. One issue raised by Swedwatch was the need to unlock climate finance for communities in conflict-affected contexts.

Swedwatch also continued engagements with policymakers in the OECD and EU, pushing for a phase-out of export support to fossil fuels. Alongside policy discussions, a campaign by Swedwatch and Oil Change International was launched to instigate public engagement on the issue👇🏼.

Sustainable management of natural resources

Partners and networks:
The core of our work

In 2023, Swedwatch continued to closely collaborate with partners and networks around the globe.

Important milestones

From voluntary to regulatory measures

For years, Swedwatch has highlighted the need for voluntary guidelines on business and human rights to be turned into binding regulations. In 2023, Swedwatch along with partners and networks called on decision-makers in the EU to adopt a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) which incorporates the perspectives of rightsholders and aligns with international norms.

Despite serious gaps in the political agreement reached in 2023, including that financial actors and downstream obligations are not comprehensively covered, a passing of the law will be an important step forward towards increased corporate accountability and for those affected by unsustainable business operations.

Previous work from Swedwatch on the Lundin case includes the 2017 report Fuel for Conflict, which looks into investor responsibilities.
Work from Swedwatch on the role of Lundin Oil in the war in Sudan includes the report Fuel for Conflict, focusing on the investor responsibilities.

Respect human rights – or risk litigation

The trial against two former top executives of Swedish oil company Lundin Oil, accused of complicity in war crimes in Sudan, begun in 2023 and was closely followed by Swedwatch. The trial is important not only as it represents the first time anybody is tried in court for involvement in war crimes committed during the civil war in Sudan, but also as it is extremely rare that company representatives are prosecuted for complicity in gross and systematic human rights violations.

The trial also sends a clear signal to international corporations operating in conflict-sensitive contexts to act firmly on their responsibility to respect human rights.

More on the topic

On Swedwatch's horizon

Looking into 2024 and beyond, in a time of climate crises, continued democratic decline and an increase in conflicts globally, actions taken by companies to turn the tide remains insufficient - and change is too slow. Below are some of the issues that Swedwatch together with its partners, member organisationas and networks will focus on in the nearest future .

Conflict-sensitive business approaches

With numerous ongoing and underlying conflicts around the globe, a conflict-sensitive approach to business is paramount. For any business actor, this entails mitigating or addressing any driver of conflict that could be related to the company's operations - upstreams and downstreams.

Due diligence in practice

Once the EU Corporate Due Diligence Directive is passed, companies will be obliged to analyse and address human rights and environmental risks linked to their operations. While reaching a political agreement is a first significant step, ensuring an ambitious implementation of the law will be equally crucial.

The transposition of the directive into national law and the adherence to the directive by companies will be central to Swedwatch in the years to come.  

Investors as enablers of a just transition

As enablers of renewable energy projects, investors play a crucial role in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. However, banks, pension funds and other financial actors have a responsibility to ensure that these projects are not only green - but also just and equitable.

Safeguarding the rights of those whose lives and livelihoods are impacted by renewable energy projects, and the role of investors therein, is one of Swedwatch's focus areas for 2024 and onwards.

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