Our key takeaway: Draft guidance has just been released on how companies can conduct human rights due diligence - in a way that also seeks to capture their impacts on air, land, and water pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss - courtesy of UNDP and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG). We were consulted as part of its development - as I know that a number of you were. There are still a number of suggestions that can be provided to strengthen the guide and make it the most helpful and meaningful possible for companies advancing on this. The UNDP is very open to receiving further feedback - we will be liaising with UNDP on this and we urge you all to do the same. Do take the time: companies need to urgently advance on this topic, and this guide will be viewed as an important reference point so engage now before the date of consultation ends (15 Jan 24). In the meantime, some highlights. The guide makes clear that companies need to look beyond the ‘traditional’ business planning cycle, and identify and assess not only short-term (e.g., 1-3 years) impacts but also longer-term impacts (e.g., by 2030 or 2050). This is the only way to get ahead of the curve and start to anticipate how human rights respect will evolve in light of the growing climate and nature crisis. This was our key point of feedback, based on our work with AIM-Progress (available here). The guide also recognises that environmental impacts can accumulate or have delayed adverse impacts over time, and that therefore companies should be looking at these impacts - even if there is not an immediate or obvious effect on human rights. Spoiler alert, some of our feedback: we think that the framing of connecting this to the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is limiting: even if that right had not been recognised recently by the UN, this work would need to be conducted by companies because of how environmental impacts impact a large number of core human rights already approved by the UN years ago. We think the prioritisation of impacts bringing in a temporal timeframe is critical: how does the guide recommend that companies prioritise when weighing severity and likelihood across different temporal timeframes? And disengagement that is already taking place for climate reasons, and how it takes place responsibly, is where the rubber hits the road. We’ll need more guidance for companies on this. Get involved - now is the time.
UNDP and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG) published the draft ‘Human Rights Due Diligence and the Environment: Draft Guide for Business’ (November 2023) intended to equip businesses with practical advice, experiences, and insights to get started or build on existing efforts to carry out effective human rights due diligence in the context of the triple planetary crisis. The guide notes that “[t]he triple planetary crisis is terminology and framework adopted by the UN to describe three interlinked environmental issues that humanity currently faces: (1) pollution, (2) climate change, and (3) biodiversity loss.” This is a draft guide for which the drafters are seeking final feedback and validation. Here are some of the key content points - we recommend that all working on the inter-connections read the guide and provide guidance and feedback on what is helpful and meaningful to integrate/ revise:
- Identify and assess adverse impacts on the environment and human rights: The guide delves into how companies can identify their “adverse impacts that (1) cause or worsen air, land, and water pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss and (2) remove or reduce the ability of individual persons, groups, and peoples to exercise and enjoy their human rights.” The guide notes that the key is to “[i]dentify and assess longer-term (potential) adverse human rights and environmental impacts” In other words, “to respect the human rights of future generations, look beyond the ‘traditional’ business planning cycle, and identify and assess not only short-term (e.g., 1-3 years) (potential) adverse human rights and environmental impacts but also longer-term (e.g., by 2030 or 2050).” In addition, the guide provides that, since environmental impacts can accumulate or have delayed adverse impacts over time, companies should “[i]dentify and assess (potential) adverse environmental impacts regardless of whether there is an immediate or obvious effect on human rights.” The guide delves into the six suggested process steps to identify and assess the relevant impacts. These include (1) creating a complete value chain outline, (2) mapping the geographical locations of the business’ own activities and activities in the value chain and adding to the map key spatial data layers related to land, water, air, climate, and biodiversity, (3) adding to the map rights-holders whose lives and livelihoods depend on the land, water, air, climate, and biodiversity, as well those who are entitled to the lands, territories, and resources, (4) identify the business’ potential adverse impacts on land, water, air, climate, and biodiversity, and human rights, (5) conduct effective two-way consultations directly with the mapped rights-holders or their legitimate representatives, and (6) reconsider the identification and assessment at key moments in time.
- Take a rights-holders-centered approach to the actions needed: The guide then delves into how companies can address their adverse human rights and environmental impacts throughout their business relationships. In short, this entails taking a rights-holders-centered approach. In particular, the company should “make decisions on continuing or terminating business relationships in the best interest of and in consultation with (potentially) affected rights-holders.” The guide provides examples of how to prioritise risks using the lens of severity to people, as well as determined involvement in potential adverse impacts. The guide advises that companies consolidate their identified actions into a publicly available “stand-alone Action Plan to prevent and address (potential) adverse human rights and environmental impacts.” In particular, this Action Plan can include: (1) “Assigned responsibility for preventing and addressing each (potential) adverse impact”; (2) “Timeline for preventing and addressing each (potential) adverse impact”; (3) “Allocated budget, taking into account both short- (e.g., 1-3 years) and longer-term (e.g., by 2030 or 2050) (potential) adverse impacts”; and (4) “Established reporting and oversight processes.”
- Strong engagement as part of tracking and communicating: The guide then delves into tracking the effectiveness of actions taken. This includes “[a]pply[ing] a human rights-based approach to collecting data: when collecting human rights and environmental data, apply a human rights-based approach, particularly its principles of participation, data disaggregation, self-identification, and privacy.” This also includes “[t]rack[ing] what is important as opposed to tracking only what can be easily quantified.” This includes “go[ing] beyond quantitative scientific data and complete it with qualitative data, including anecdotal evidence and case studies on lived experiences collected directly from (potentially) affected rights-holders.” This also entails “supporting value chain actors in tracking their human rights and environmental performance”, and “shift[ing] from top-down ‘value chain monitoring programmes’ towards more collaborative approaches” in the process. In particular, this can include “directly supporting public ‘watchdogs’/’critical friends’, including environmental human rights defenders, in geographical locations across your business’ value chain as a useful tool for tracking actors’ human rights and environmental performance and identifying high-performing ones. The guide concludes with guidance for companies on how to “[p]rovide accurate and complete information about business’ (potential) adverse human rights and environmental impacts and demonstrate the performance on preventing and addressing them, particularly when concerns are raised by or on behalf of (potentially) affected rights-holders.”