Human rights and biodiversity

Anna Triponel

February 16, 2024
Our key takeaway: Companies can affect rights—especially of Indigenous Peoples and traditional and local communities—both through their impacts on nature and through their efforts to mitigate those impacts. Rights impacted when biodiversity is impacted include the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; the right to physical and mental health; and the right to life, liberty and security of human rights and environmental defenders. GBI recommends four top actions for companies to take action: (1) adapt and adopt policy commitments that explicitly focus on the links between human rights and biodiversity, and the importance of Free, Prior and Informed Consent; (2) conduct due diligence with an eye to identifying, assessing and addressing biodiversity impacts in own operations and along the full value chain, and conduct due diligence on mitigation measures; (3) ensure appropriate access to remedy for biodiversity-related harms; and (4) build internal muscle to address the joint biodiversity and human rights crisis, including by bringing senior management onboard, breaking down silos between functions, and embedding human rights capabilities into teams responsible for biodiversity. At the end of the day, we are running out of time. A number of scientists believe the sixth mass extinction has begun, and the extinction rate of species is thought to be about 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet. The time for considering biodiversity loss,, and it impacts on people, is now.

The Global Business Initiative on Business and Human Rights (GBI) published the briefing note  Business Involvement in Biodiversity-Related Human Rights Impacts (February 2024):

  • How companies can impact human rights by impacting biodiversity: Company contributions to biodiversity loss can have negative impacts on human rights, especially of groups that are especially susceptible to impacts on nature like Indigenous Peoples, traditional and local communities, and other marginalised groups. For example, activities like natural resource extraction, irresponsible agricultural practices, eco-conversion, deforestation, pollution and poor waste management can impact the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It can also impact the right to physical and mental health by degrading natural sources of medicine and time spent in nature. Where companies or their business partners threaten or kill human rights and environmental defenders, they impact the right to life, liberty and security.
  • How companies can impact human rights by acting on biodiversity loss: Taking action to protect biodiversity can also harm people, especially where companies fail to obtain free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples or fail to consult with impacted communities. For instance, the rights of Indigenous Peoples to traditional land and natural resources, cultural heritage and intellectual property can be negatively impacted by companies’ actions that prevent or reduce access to land, like bio-offsetting, reforestation, conservation and nature restoration. In addition, the rights of workers and communities to an adequate standard of living can be negatively impacted through practices that shift existing production models, like regenerative agriculture or moving supply chains to a new geography. GBI emphasises though that “recognition of the human rights risks does not mean that businesses should refrain from taking action to address the biodiversity crisis – there is a strong case to act, and quickly.” The report calls on companies to conduct robust human rights due diligence to assess the impacts of its biodiversity actions on people.
  • Practical actions: The report recommends a number of actions to enable businesses to address biodiversity loss-related human rights risks. Companies should update their existing policies to acknowledge the links between human rights and biodiversity, and can make a specific policy commitment to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and traditional and local communities, including FPIC. Companies should also apply human rights due diligence practices to identify, assess and address their contributions to biodiversity loss, as well as to determine possible impacts to people from biodiversity protection efforts. This should be centered around meaningful engagement with affected people. As part of the due diligence process, companies should also ensure access to remedy for people who have been harmed by the actions of the company or its business partners. Grievance mechanisms should be reviewed to ensure they are “fit-for-purpose” to receive and address biodiversity-related impacts. Finally, companies should seek to “embed a rights-respecting response to the biodiversity crisis” throughout their entire organisation, including with senior management and teams working on environmental issues. “[C]oherence and coordination” are needed on human rights and biodiversity across the company, which can be bolstered by building the capabilities of all teams to understand and address human rights impacts linked to biodiversity.

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