June 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), but as Desiree Abrahams of the Global Plan of Action explains, the impacts of business on the environment appear as a new frontier in the protection of society.
The UNGP enshrined the concept of human rights due diligence, which has been incorporated into many business operating standards, such as the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, Performance Standards of the IFC and ISO 26000.
Critically, the concept of human rights due diligence has been included in legislation, such as in the modern slavery laws of the UK and Australia, the French duty of duty law. corporate vigilance (2017) and the Dutch Child Labor Due Diligence Act (2019). Add to this the European Union’s burden of mandatory human rights due diligence, and the growing trend towards a hardening of the operational landscape of companies, in terms of their impact on society, is clearly apparent. .
Yet as companies continue to grapple with what it means to ‘know and show’ that they respect human rights, the triple environmental crisis we are currently facing in the form of climate change, loss biodiversity and pollution, will inevitably require companies to reassess their approaches to human rights due diligence, and to examine how their actions have a concerted impact on the environment and human rights. man.
While the Brundtland Commission’s ‘Our Common Future’ marked the start of sustainable development as early as 1987 and spoke of the interdependence of society and the environment, until now governments and businesses have failed to do so. very few attempts to understand and address the links between the two problems.
Enter – Resolution 45/30 – respecting the right of the child to a clean and healthy environment, recently adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2020. Similar to the UNGP, resolution 45/30 is based on fundamental principles of accountability, namely – states have a duty to protect human rights, corporations have a separate responsibility to respect them.
By making a business responsible for taking action on environmental damage to which it contributes from a rights perspective, for the first time in history, businesses are now expected to take into account the human impacts resulting from their operations and commercial activities that generate environmental consequences. For example, think about the harmful effects on the health of young and old alike from pollution generated by a company’s business activities.
This is a marked departure from other international pollution standards which to date have only considered the environmental effects of pollution – making it a game changer for people and the planet.
And although resolution 45/30 is a non-binding instrument, don’t be fooled into thinking that it is not intended to influence harsher forms of law.
New forms of legislation echoing his sentiment are already accelerating, as highlighted by the 2020 announcement of the Environmental Justice for All Act, championed by US Vice President Kamala Harris. The concepts of equity and justice are at the forefront and at the center of the Act. At its core, it would recognize the right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment for all Americans, if passed.
Responsible businesses should not wait for legislation to pass. The expectations of the private sector in resolution 45/30 are clear and business should start taking action now.
Désirée Abrahams, Senior Director of Corporate Engagement, Global Plan of Action
Global Plan of Action
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