Human rights and environmental defenders regularly put their lives on the line to stand up for what’s right. In addition to facing threats, harassment, and physical attacks, these activists also face intense legal repercussions, which can affect their livelihoods and ability to continue their work.
These legal repercussions may take the form of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, also known as a SLAPP. Corporations will file lawsuits against activists or organizations, oftentimes without having any intention for the case to stand trial. Rather, what they want is to strip defenders or organizations of their resources and reputations so that they’re unable (or less likely) to move forward with their work.
The targets of these lawsuits are typically environmental land and water defenders who campaign against projects that degrade the natural world; in fact, most individuals and groups facing legal threats primarily raised concerns about the mining, agriculture, logging, and palm oil industries.
The number of SLAPPs has risen year after year as more companies are emboldened to do whatever they can to prevent barriers to their profits. (Learn more about how SLAPPs have silenced human rights voices in recent years here.)
Since Global Citizen launched its campaign against SLAPPs last year, over 40,000 action takers have taken the quiz to learn how these baseless lawsuits are used to intimidate civil society. You have raised your voices to shed light on the problem these abusive forms of litigation pose to human rights and environmental defenders around the world.
But to truly stop SLAPPs in their tracks, we need the primary offenders — wealthy companies and repressive governments — to feel the pressure from peers who are doing good work in the world without compromising their business models.
Global Citizen partnered with Greenpeace USA, EarthRights International, International Corporate Accountbility Roundtable (ICAR) to invite companies to sign the Anti-SLAPP Private Sector Pledge and stand against SLAPPs. Building on the momentum of this year’s Global Citizen events, five companies have already made a commitment to protect the right to freedom of expression without fear of intimidation or retaliation.
1. The Body Shop
Central to The Body Shop’s mission in creating ethically-sourced and naturally-based cosmetics is their engagement with and for civil society, which is why joining Global Citizen by taking action against SLAPPs was a natural step.
"We were proud to be the first company to sign Global Citizen’s commitment to never participate in such actions — under any circumstance," Christopher Davis, global director of activism, sustainability, and corporate communications at The Body Shop, told Global Citizen. "These unfounded lawsuits and legal tactics, which drain the financial resources and the morale and spirit of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and environmental activists who speak up and denounce abuses undertaken by organizations and individuals, are shameful acts of intimidation."
The Body Shop has campaigned alongside human rights defenders against human trafficking, the burning of the rainforest, animal testing, and other causes that threaten social and environmental justice. As part of their support of civil society, the company joined the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in launching the Be Seen, Be Heard campaign, a global collaboration that promotes young people’s participation in political life, last year.
“We want to go further,” Davis added. “As a company defined by our activism and committed to using our stores and mobilizing our people in 80 countries around the world to fight for social and environmental justice, The Body Shop will create a program to encourage partners and suppliers to join us in a commitment to never silence legitimate voices for change.”
2. Lush Cosmetics
Lush Cosmetics recognizes that producing fresh, handmade skincare and cosmetics products could not be achieved without the support of human rights and environmental defenders. Their products are 100% vegetarian and made from ethically-sourced ingredients, which rely on the continued protection of the natural environment.
As a company, Lush Cosmetics has campaigned against animal testing and unnecessary plastic waste in their advocacy for animal rights, human rights, and environmental protection.
"Standing for human rights is core to Lush as a campaigning company. We campaign for the rights of land defenders and water protectors — those on the frontlines of the climate emergency and challenging systems of repression," Brandi Halls, chief ethics officer of Lush Cosmetics North America, told Global Citizen. "SLAPPs seek to undermine activists taking action on issues of public importance and have no business in our business. We're proud of our anti-SLAPP commitment and encourage other businesses to join this work to ensure freedom of expression without fear of intimidation or reprisal."
Patagonia’s business model incorporates a love for the natural world into every aspect of their brand, from sourcing recycled and fair trade materials to inspiring consumers to take their gear and get outside. The clothing brand has routinely campaigned for environmental justice.
Environmental land defenders have taken on Big Oil and been punished for their courage, occasionally through SLAPPs. As part of Patagonia’s advocacy, they have routinely supported and invested in these groups, many of which comprise Indigenous leaders.
In addition to pledging to never engage in SLAPPs at the Global Citizen Festival in September, Patagonia has signaled its support for human rights defenders by awarding more than $140 million in cash and in-kind donations to action-oriented initiatives and environmental groups that are making a difference in their communities.
4. Seventh Generation
As a company committed to climate justice, Seventh Generation has done a lot of work to examine how their business is inadvertently intertwined with the fossil fuel industry, a key plaintiff of SLAPPs filed against environmental land defenders.
In 2021, they released the Fingerprints report, which discloses the greenhouse gas emissions that arise from every step of their business, from how they source materials to their banking services. As they work to detangle themselves from Big Oil, Seventh Generation has also made supporting climate activists central to their mission.
"Seventh Generation has a longstanding commitment to activism, and we’ve designed our advocacy model to work in partnership with leading activists and advocacy organizations in the climate justice movement," Kate Ogden, head of advocacy and movement building at Seventh Generation, told Global Citizen.
From campaigning alongside the organization Honor the Earth to stop the construction of the Line 3 oil pipeline expansion to providing travel stipends for activists to join the March to End Fossil Fuels, Seventh Generation has engaged with and for human rights and environmental defenders.
"We see SLAPPs as just one more way that the fossil fuel industry has been obstructing not just climate progress, but also the organizations and the people who are leading the way for a more just and sustainable world," Ogden said. "We stand against SLAPPs because they are the linchpin in the corporate capture of the political system by the fossil fuel industry."
5. Ben and Jerry’s
A key part of Ben and Jerry’s mission is uplifting the causes and voices that are committed to building a more just and sustainable world for all people. For nearly fifty years, the Vermont-based ice cream manufacturer has been churning out fun flavors and social justice campaigns to achieve just that.
In addition to disclosing where they source their ingredients and engaging in fair-trade practices, Ben and Jerry’s regularly donates a portion of their ice cream sales to support human rights causes like racial justice, fair trade, and LGBTQ+ rights. Their foundation regularly funds national organizations working for progressive social change to directly support on-the-ground advocacy efforts, which human rights defenders are an important part of growing.
At the Global Citizen Festival in September, Ben and Jerry’s became the fifth company to announce its pledge to stand against SLAPPs and continue uplifting the work of human rights defenders around the world.
Yelp is a community-driven platform built on millions of reviews, photos, and other user contributions, which provide local marketplaces with valuable information for consumers and businesses. Yelp believes in strong protections for free speech and stands firmly against those that use SLAPP litigation to silence or intimidate people for expressing their views.
"Consumers have the right to share their opinions online about their first-hand experiences with businesses," said Aaron Schur, Yelp’s general counsel. "We are proud to join other members of the business community in signing the Private Sector Anti-SLAPP Pledge and bringing awareness to the scourge of SLAPPs, which have a chilling effect on consumers' exercise of their free speech rights."
Yelp has spent over a decade advocating for strong anti-SLAPP laws at the state and federal level, including testifying before the House Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice in 2016 about the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law.
Yelp has also filed amicus curiae or "friend of the court" briefs in cases where internet users' First Amendment rights are at stake and they have been denied relief under the anti-SLAPP laws intended to protect them, even if the cases do not directly involve Yelp.
How Can Global Citizens Get Involved?
The five companies listed above have publicly denounced SLAPPs by signing the Anti-SLAPP Private Sector Pledge. Their commitment to human rights, as well as the human rights and environmental defenders who risk their lives and livelihoods to build a more just and sustainable world, sets an example for all companies that want to support civil society.
As a Global Citizen, you can also take part in our campaign to stand against SLAPPs, too. Here are a couple of ways to get started:
- Take our quiz to learn more about how hostile companies use SLAPPs to silence activists and restrict human rights.
- Find out which companies have filed SLAPPs against human rights defenders using the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s lawsuit database.
- If you or someone you know runs a business or organization that wants to stand against SLAPPs, sign our pledge and spread the world that you support civil society.
This article is part of a series connected to defending advocacy and civic space, made possible thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation.