Business Responsibility and Collective Action to Uphold Environmental Rights
13:00 – 14:30 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 2 June 2021
Organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Human rights and environmentally sound development are intrinsically linked and mutually reinforcing as substantive rights, wellbeing and health depend on a safe and healthy environment. Meanwhile, procedural rights enable citizen participation in sustainable development and environmental protection.1 Therefore, incorporating a human rights-based approach (HRBA) within business decision-making is essential to preserving fundamental human rights.
Along with contributing to environmental degradation, exposure to hazardous substances, toxic waste, and pollution resulting from improper business practices can lead to various violations of fundamental rights, including the right to life, right to health, and right to information and participation. These rights can collectively be termed the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Moreover, exposure to pollutants disproportionately impacts the fundamental rights of marginalized groups, including children, women, indigenous persons, low-income communities, and other minorities.
1 United Nations Environment Programme, Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia, 2019. Gender Equality and Preventing Plastic Pollution, Issue Brief. Bangkok: UNEP available at https://www.unep.org/cobsea/resources/report/marine-plastic-litter-east-asian-seas-gender-human-rights-and-economic-dimensions
A survey launched by UNDP and UNEP found that respondents in the Asia Pacific region believe that air pollution and climate change are the most pressing environmental issues. These are perceived to be resulting largely from the energy, agri-business and waste management industries.2 The preceding industries comprise some of the leading industries in the Asia Pacific region; therefore, it is essential to highlight the importance of business responsibility in ensuring that fundamental environmental rights of stakeholders are not violated. This will include a discussion of best practices and future policies that will improve compliance with international environmental and human rights standards, including state policies and regulatory bodies’ standards.
2 Business, Human Rights and the Environment, UNDP Business and Human Rights, April 2021, available at https://bizhumanrights.asia-pacific.undp.org/content/bizhumanrights/en/home/knowledge-hub0/business--human-rights--and-the-environment---survey-summary.html
This session looks to dissect and discuss these practices, their implications, and the responsibilities of businesses.
The key objectives of this session are to:
Understand the role of industry standards and government in protecting the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment;
Explore the root causes and implications of non-compliance with international environmental and human rights standards in business operations, especially in priority industries that have a significant environmental impact;
Discuss the collective actions that business regulatory bodies can implement to ensure that standards are being met, such as human rights due diligence, stakeholder participation and effective remedies.
Panelists will reflect on the following questions:
What are best practices to respect the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, including those relating to human rights due diligence, internal decision-making and effective remedies?3
Are there any examples of effective state policies or corporate policies that ensure public participation from stakeholders?
How can state policies can be strengthened to ensure that the above is being complied with? What are their experiences?
Proactive steps that companies could take to avoid impacting vulnerable groups?
What tools and initiatives can help companies identify areas of non-compliance (i.e., within all operations, including supply chains and subsidiaries)?
3 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” Framework, 2011 available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf