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Towards a business, Human Rights and the environment framework

Towards a business, Human Rights and the environment framework

Martin-Ortega, Olga ORCID: 0000-0002-1779-0120, Dehbi, Fatimazahra ORCID: 0000-0002-3626-488X, Nelson, Valerie ORCID: 0000-0003-1075-0238 and Pillay, Renginee ORCID: 0000-0001-6849-0585 (2022) Towards a business, Human Rights and the environment framework. Sustainability, 14 (11):6596. ISSN 2071-1050 (doi:

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We are in the midst of an ecological crisis which has been and continues to be provoked by human-led ‘environmental degradation’ (defined for the purposes of this editorial as any harm or adverse impact caused to the environment, including climate change, the contamination of the land and water through the exposure to or dumping of toxic and hazardous substances and wastes, air pollution, the destruction of ecosystems, and the depletion of biodiversity). Despite this, and the fact that such degradation is directly linked to adverse impacts on biological diversity, ecosystems, and human life [1] (paras 36–38) [2] (pp. 3–4), states persist in providing inadequate responses to the destruction of nature, including in the context of establishing strong regulatory frameworks to address harmful corporate activity. It is this collective failure to take effective steps in addressing environmental degradation which continues to make human activities a threat to the natural world with potentially irreversible impacts [3] (p. 28) [4] (pp. 5–8). Humanity has received its “code red” warning [5]: we are at risk of exceeding 1.5 °C unless deep reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are made within the following decades [3] (p. 17). The degradation of the environment, rise in temperatures, and climate change have already impacted human health and livelihoods, which will only get worse, potentially becoming an existential threat.
Academics, lawyers, and civil society actors have sought to explore solutions to tackling environmental degradation through the lens of human rights. As such, the growing recognition of the close relationship between the environment and human rights has led to the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment [6,7], the inclusion of targets that seek to address our adverse impact on the environment throughout the Sustainable Development Goals [8], and recently to the recognition by the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) that a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right in of itself, in its landmark resolution 48/13 in October 2021 [9].
Despite this recognition, the well-established impact of the private sector on both human rights [10] and the environment [11] (paras 32–34) [12,13] (para 81), and the consolidation of a corporate responsibility to respect human rights under International Human Rights Law as clarified within the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) [14] (Principles 11–24), there has been limited consideration given to the environment in the business and human rights (BHR) discourse. Increasingly, regulatory developments have made efforts to integrate environmental rights into the protection of human rights from corporate harm, for example, the draft treaty or International Legally Binding Instrument (LBI) to regulate, under international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises [15]. Moreover, environmental considerations are starting to make their way into non-financial reporting and human rights due diligence processes along with a range of climate change-related litigation which consider the human cost of both corporate action and state inaction. However, the consideration of the environment in the BHR legal field has at its best been approached in an ad-hoc and piecemeal manner, resulting in efforts that fail to adequately consider the interaction between international human rights law and international environmental law as two separate legal regimes and their practical implementations in relation to commercial activities.
From this perspective, how do we articulate a comprehensive theoretical framework which seeks to protect both human rights and the environment from corporate abuses? This question sits at the heart of this Special Issue of Sustainability on Business, Human Rights, and the Environment. In an attempt to provide a response, this Special Issue seeks to reflect on the current, albeit limited, theoretical and practical integration of human rights and the environment into the BHR framework to date. The scholars who have contributed to this Special Issue bring a wide range of expertise and perspectives from various regions to facilitate this reflection and incorporation of human rights and the environment into the BHR discourse to inform theory and practice. In addition to reflecting on the evolution of the relationship and current practice, they also explore the role and potential impact that a greater integration of the environment into the BHR framework has in achieving positive social and environmental change as well as the protection, fulfilment, and promotion of human rights.
This Editorial seeks to set the stage for the contributions discussed above by: (1) laying out the relationship between human rights and the environment under International Human Rights Law, including both the synergies and contradictions brought by the different principles, natures, scopes, and duty-bearers in both regimes; (2) mapping when and where environmental concerns began to be considered in the corporate responsibility and BHR discourse and the prominence of climate change as a BHR issue; (3) considering the extent to which developing transparency standards, due diligence standards, and climate litigation has articulated human rights and environmental accountability for corporate-induced harm in the absence of a business, human rights, and environment (BHRE) framework. In these discussions, we identify and draw links between the key perspectives explored in the seven contributions which ought to be taken forward in any development of an integrated and coherent theoretical BHRE framework and its international legal implementation.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment.
Uncontrolled Keywords: business and human rights; human rights and the environment; supply chain; business human rights and the environment; climate litigation; corporate accountability; environment; climate change; human rights due diligence; united nations guiding principles
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
K Law > KZ Law of Nations
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Livelihoods & Institutions Department
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > Business, Human Rights and the Environment Research Group (BHRE)
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Law & Criminology (LAC)
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2022 12:48

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