Business, Human Rights and the Environment

Priority actions for government and multilateral organizations


Event Summary - 6 May 2021

Event Summary Video

Full Event Recoding

00:00 Introductions & Keynote Remarks
23:19 BHR+E Survey Summary
30:10 Roundtable Discussion
52:12 Air Pollution & Agri-business
1:20:47 Climate Change & the Energy Industry
1:50:58 Water Pollution/Scarcity & the Waste Management Industry
2:20:00 Report Back & Conclusions

Keynote Speakers

Environmental pollution and climate change have an impact on each and every human right: civil, political, social, economic and cultural. This interconnection is inescapable, and in fact, it will only continue to become more visible.
Dr. Surya Deva, UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Trade is a very powerful tool to trigger business responsibility vis-à-vis human rights and environmental concerns. We are engaging this in the EU through legislation, the Green Deal, and indeed, trade agreements.
Isabelle De Stobbeleir, Trade Counselor, EU Delegation Thailand

BHR+E Survey Summary

Over a three-week period, UNDP Business and Human Right in Asia programme (B+HR Asia), alongside UNEP and other partners, hosted an online survey to capture perceptions of environmental risks and their relationships to human rights abuses. Respondents were asked for their views on the most effective means of addressing the challenges related to Business, Human Rights and the Environment (BHR+E). The summary of the survey was shared with roundtable participants for their views.

Out of 609 survey respondents, most worked at multilateral institutions (23%). Business actors were the second most frequent respondents (21%).

In terms of geographical distribution, Southeast Asia was the most heavily represented (59%).

When asked, 'What is the most pressing environmental challenge for your country?' respondents identified air pollution and climate change at the highest priority across all sub-regions.

When disaggregated by region, the results above are duplicated in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. Air pollution is considered the most pressing environmental priority, followed by climate change and water pollution/scarcity.

However, in South Asia, climate change and water pollution/scarcity rank higher than air pollution.

In order to best address BHR+E related issues from a procedural rights standpoint, access to information was deemed most relevant, followed by access to justice and inclusive decision-making.

Among legal and regulatory solutions, investment in stronger and more credible environmental impact assessments ranked first, followed by stronger legal frameworks and enforcement.

Over a three-week period, UNDP Business and Human Right in Asia programme (B+HR Asia), alongside UNEP and other partners, hosted an online survey to capture perceptions of environmental risks and their relationships to human rights abuses. Respondents were asked for their views on the most effective means of addressing the challenges related to Business, Human Rights and the Environment (BHR+E). The summary of the survey was shared with roundtable participants for their views.

Out of 609 survey respondents, most worked at multilateral institutions (23%). Business actors were the second most frequent respondents (21%).

In terms of geographical distribution, Southeast Asia was the most heavily represented (59%).

When asked, 'What is the most pressing environmental challenge for your country?' respondents identified air pollution and climate change at the highest priority across all sub-regions.

When disaggregated by region, the results above are duplicated in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. Air pollution is considered the most pressing environmental priority, followed by climate change and water pollution/scarcity.

However, in South Asia, climate change and water pollution/scarcity rank higher than air pollution.

In order to best address BHR+E related issues from a procedural rights standpoint, access to information was deemed most relevant, followed by access to justice and inclusive decision-making.

Among legal and regulatory solutions, investment in stronger and more credible environmental impact assessments ranked first, followed by stronger legal frameworks and enforcement.

Roundtable Discussion

Despite the recognition of the role that businesses play in addressing human rights, there is a significant knowledge gap on how human rights link to the environment.
Victor Bernard, Programme Officer, Regional Asia and the Pacific Programme, Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI), Indonesia

There is a lack of understanding of the connection between environmental risks and human rights. In order to build these two into the business agenda, we have to prioritize special efforts such as advocacy and awareness raising.
Wora Suk, Mekong Campaign Coordinator, and Business and Human Rights Advocacy for EarthRights International, Cambodia
We are in an absolutely critical moment. The causes of climate change and air pollution are known to us, and they are expanding. The oil and gas industry worldwide are still expanding.
Brynn O’Brien Executive Director, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Australia

The challenge right now for the global economy is the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy systems. But we have to recognize that, for example in my country, if we were to say that the Energy Sector should no longer sell fossil fuels, then our entire economy will shut down. This will result in terrible negative human rights impacts.
Roberto Cadiz, Commissioner, National Human Rights Commission of the Philippines
Apart from the increase of corporate disclosures, there is a case for analysis of these disclosures... For example, there is an important case for multi-lateral organizations to analyze these disclosures and feed them back to companies and policy-makers.
Shankar Venkateswaran, Advisor for Sustainability Business Society, and Co-Founder of ECube Climate Finance, India

Under solutions we think that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will solve everything. In my experience this is not the case. The EIA is just a legal tool, and it needs law enforcement and major policy decisions to help make things right in addressing these issues
Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka

Breakout Room Discussions

Survey verification

The three regions most highly
represented among the event
participants were Southeast
Asia (52%), South Asia (16%)
and Europe (13%).

Most of the participants came from a civil society background (33%), while business (19%), academia (18%) and multilateral organizations (17%) were present in nearly equal numbers.

Regarding the gender distribution, women were in the majority among the audience and in the discussions (62%).

During the course of breakout room conversations, participants expressed the need to afford women equal voice to enrich the business, human rights and environment discourse, gender being a cross-cutting issue, integral to achieving some of the procedural human rights discussed.

The breakout rooms also provided an opportunity to validate the outcomes of the online survey and allow participants to express more nuanced views on BHR+E.

In general, 26% fully agreed with the outcomes, 71% agreed somewhat and 2% disagreed.

Participants viewed inclusive decision-making as among the most relevant procedural-rights interventions to address priority environmental issues. Strengthening legal frameworks was identified as the most critical item for uptake in terms of legal and regulatory interventions.

The three regions most highly represented among the event participants were Southeast Asia (52%), South Asia (16%) and Europe (13%).

Most of the participants came from a civil society background (33%), while business (19%), academia (18%) and multilateral organizations (17%) were present in nearly equal numbers.

Regarding the gender distribution, women were in the majority among the audience and in the discussions (62%).

During the course of breakout room conversations, participants expressed the need to afford women equal voice to enrich the business, human rights and environment discourse, gender being a cross-cutting issue, integral to achieving some of the procedural human rights discussed.

The breakout rooms also provided an opportunity to validate the outcomes of the online survey and allow participants to express more nuanced views on BHR+E.

In general, 26% fully agreed with the outcomes, 71% agreed somewhat and 2% disagreed.

Participants viewed inclusive decision-making as among the most relevant procedural-rights interventions to address priority environmental issues. Strengthening legal frameworks was identified as the most critical item for uptake in terms of legal and regulatory interventions.

Next Steps

Based on the results of the online survey and the BHR+E Roundtable consultations, the UNDP team will commission a knowledge product targeting States and multilateral organizations that includes recommendations for action.

Preliminary findings suggest that air pollution, climate change and water pollution should be addressed first, targeting agribusiness, energy and waste management industries. Rooted in the right to health, the report might also focus on providing recommendations on inclusive decision making and the enforcement of strong legal frameworks.

UNDP looks forward to receiving any further comments from you and your organization. Please visit our website or contact us via bizhumanrights.asia@undp.org.

B+HR Asia Project

B+HR Asia: Enabling Sustainable Economic Development through the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework supports the implementation of the UNGPs in close partnership with Asian governments, business, and civil society, through dialogue, training, research, small grant provision and awareness raising activities.  

In so doing, the joint EU-UNDP action aims to strengthen human rights conditions in business operations and supply chains, facilitating sustainable economic growth while promoting multilateralism.

The action is complemented by the Promoting Responsible Business Practices through Regional Partnerships project funded by the Government of Sweden.