Why is this important?
The link between human rights and the environment, including climate change is a crucial one for corporations to make. The link has been recognised by the UN human rights bodies (e.g., the Human Rights Council) and the treaty bodies and has been embedded in the UN special procedures. This link works in two ways:
- environmental protection is instrumental to the enjoyment of a number of human rights
- the exercise of human rights (particularly procedural rights such as access to information, public participation and access to effective judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy) is vital for effective environmental protection.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, noted that this resolution ‘reflects that all rights are connected to the health of our environment’. The link between the environment and human rights is one that experts have made repeatedly. As climate change and human rights are linked, promoting a sustainable environment will also help reduce poverty, increase food security and improve health conditions. This will inevitably reduce the number of people vulnerable to human rights violations in the workforce.
The relevance to businesses
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change( IPCC) reports have increased awareness of the link between the environment and human rights. This resolution is a move in the right direction; the approach to link human rights and environmental issues is one that is fast becoming the normal expectation of businesses globally. This is evident in the increased legislation linking both subject matters on international and national levels such as the Mandatory: Proposal for a Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence 2022.
Businesses are also increasingly facing litigation around issues that have highlighted the link between the environment and human rights. Cases such as Shell v Okpabi and Total lawsuit have only increased awareness on how damage to the environment significantly infringes upon human rights.
Businesses will be expected to acknowledge this link and show the steps they have taken to highlight these issues in their organisations and supply chains.
How can businesses show that they respect the universal right to a healthy environment?
- Communication and Culture: A significant aspect of ensuring your organisation is committed to respecting a right to a healthy environment is for leadership to effectively communicate the organisation’s sustainability stance and promote a culture of commitment to respecting human rights and the environment throughout the organisation. An established culture protecting human rights and the environment implies that respect for its principles is embedded at all levels of the organisational culture, including its values and underlying assumptions.
- Policy Commitment: A key way organisations can communicate its culture is through its policies and continued training of employees. Policies can describe your documented approach to human rights and the environment and training is an efficient method of ensuring that your organisation understand and respect the policies.
- Human rights due diligence processes: a due diligence process helps identify, mitigate and prevent salient human rights and environmental issues. Building a robust system that allows the organisation to monitor their progress and effectiveness in dealing with such issues within their organisations and supply chains is crucial in an organisation’s ability to communicate their efforts.
- Leadership: robust governance is key to building your human rights and environmental due diligence system. A strong governance system means making strategic decisions that have short- and long-term value. It is the role of the C-suite level executives as well as general counsel to ensure that the organisation has governance frameworks in place which include multi-stakeholder input. For this to happen, leaders must determine the company’s position on the environment and human rights by understanding the landscape of your industry and defining what issues are most important and relevant to your organisation and its operations.
- Grievance mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that concerns about impacts on the environment and its effect on human rights can be raised by victims or potential victims.
How can Ardea help you?
For more information on creating a human rights and environmental due diligence system for your business, check out our workshop on developing an effective environment and human rights due diligence framework, sustainable business tool kits and template, Sustainability Reporting Guide and Template and our consultancy services. If you would like help and support to get started or have any questions, please feel free to get in touch with the Ardea team via firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact us to see how we can support you.