Rebuttal research is distinct from research into the harms caused by corporations. It looks specifically into what the company says is the reason or reasons it is not responsible. For example, if a company claims that state agents were responsible for some particular harm – such as forced evictions – and the company was not involved and did not know what was happening, rebuttal research needs to focus on what the company knew or ought reasonably to have known. Did the company know people were living on the site?  Did the company discuss with the government when acquiring the rights to use the land? If not, why not?

This is a simple example. More complex examples involve companies using technical data to deny responsibility. Oil giant Shell regularly claims that oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by sabotage but research by Amnesty working with an oil pipeline expert Accufacts into this claim exposed how investigations are manipulated by the company and the claim of sabotage is not always what it seems.

In doing rebuttal research, it is critical to consider the audience. If the company is denying responsibility, to whom do they say this (their shareholders, their customers, a legal process?). Which of these actors are key to unlocking the case and helping to secure remedy? NGO rebuttal research has to show those actors that the company’s claims are false in ways that will resonate. The kind of information that will persuade customers that a company’s actions are problematic is not what will convince a court that is examining specific legal points. [see: xxx]

Rebuttal research is often more complex and challenging than research into the original harm – the human rights abuse or environmental damage. Finding the right kind of expertise is critical. This can include anything from accountants to oil pipeline experts, from toxicologists to whistleblowers. Much depends on what the company has claimed. Rebuttal research can also challenge some harmful strategies directly. For example, when a company tries to divert complaints to company grievance mechanisms, rebuttal research can show the substantive and procedural flaws of the company system.

It is also helpful to scour annual reports and learn how to read these, as they can provide valuable information to challenge company claims, particularly on ownership and control over other companies, and company claims that they cannot afford to take necessary actions (such as improving labour conditions).

Predicting the company’s likely responses to allegations of harm (i.e., considering the harmful strategies the company is likely to use) from the outset can help shape the initial research into the harm. Being ready to rebut likely corporate denials helps prevent a corporate narrative becoming entrenched.