Tangible steps to take a human rights-based approach to climate change

Anna Triponel

September 26, 2021
Our key takeaway: Business strategies can only be resilient if they consider the uncertain future and integrate concrete steps to apply a human rights-based approach to companies’ climate work.

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) published its report Climate Change: Building Resilience While Protecting Human Rights:

  • Business has a role to play in tackling both climate and human rights challenges: In the context of climate change, the authors point to three specific expectations of business with regard to human rights, tied to the responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs): “A responsibility to address human rights impacts related to their physical climate impacts”; “A responsibility to address human rights impacts related to their transition to a low-carbon economy”; and “An opportunity to promote the realization, fulfillment, and enjoyment of rights in a resilient world.”
  • Building resilient business strategies that capture the emerging future: Company human rights strategies are resilient “if they consider the emerging future.” Although we can’t predict the future with certainty, “[o]ver the next ten years, we can expect to see significant changes in the world related to technological innovation, geopolitics, and the global economy.” Specifically, BSR identifies five “strategic hotspots with the potential to create adverse human rights impacts” that companies should consider in their human rights strategies. These are: (1) “Disruption and shifts in the value chain will lead to new vulnerabilities for business and workers”; (2) “Automation will lead to efficiency gains as well as questions around the future of work”; (3) “Data collection will become increasingly widespread,” potentially posing risks to individual freedoms and privacy among the inherent benefits; (4) “Precarious employment situations will lead to considerable risks related to the rights of workers and worker protection”; and (5) “Shifts in the reporting landscape will lead to new and/or evolving regulations and standards on human rights reporting practices and policies.”
  • Recommendations for business to be ready for the future: Companies can be ready for the future by “integrat[ing] a human rights-based approach to their climate work”, including by consulting with impacted rightsholders.” They “must understand how climate vulnerabilities manifest across their value chains—both in terms of those directly impacted by the company’s response to climate change as well as how certain populations may be independently affected by climate change in the areas or industry in which they work.” This in turn enables them to place affected communities at the center of solutions to build resilience to climate impacts. Internally, companies can explore synergies between climate and human rights departments, ensure risks are managed “from the top and bottom of the value chain”, and gather data to measure the resilience for business and communities they affect. Externally, companies can partner with experts and civil society, can participate in collective commitments, and have a role to play in “using their influence to call on all levels of government to integrate a human rights and equity lens into their climate solutions, and vice versa.” Finally, companies “should develop an understanding of a myriad of future scenarios, influenced by climate change, human rights, and other social, economic, and political dimensions”, and “test the resilience of their strategies or approaches against these scenarios.”

For more, see Hannah Darnton, Samantha Harris, and Jacob Park, BSR, Climate Change: Building Resilience While Protecting Human Rights (September 2021)

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