Business, Human Rights and the Environment

I first worked on business and human rights for Amnesty International UK in 2000 after the organisation expanded its mandate into this area –  the same year that Kofi Annan launched the UN Global Compact to unite businesses with the UN for a better world.

In 2011 the UN adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in 2012 the UN Global Compact, Save the Children and UNICEF launched the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

Corporations have become increasingly powerful, not least because the UN needs them as a key financial and technical partner in order to fulfill its mandate. The business sector can be a force for ill as well as good, but as non-state actors, the international human rights treaty system is inadequate in terms of enforcing good business practices and penalising bad ones, and Governments remain the main duty bearers.

In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council therefore established an intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The treaty remains in draft form.

A draft UN General Assembly resolution on human rights and climate change (8 July 2021) recognizes that climate change, biodiversity loss and other types of environmental degradation, impact the right to adequate food, and exacerbate disease emergence and increase the impact of pandemics.

Business and human rights spans corporate social responsibility and environmental impacts. We are our environment and our environment is us: what we eat, what we use and discard, how we treat animals and the earth. All have an imprint on us, all imprint the earth. It is time to safeguard the earth as if we were safeguarding our own short life.

Please see examples of Elizabeth’s work and writing on the business, human rights and the environment below:

Liberty & Humanity

Poem: When the earth is cut

Tribal populations were thrust onto the frontline of human rights abuses
From misplaced corporate power
“Civilised” societies used genocide and slavery to steal land, resources and labour
So that progress knows no barrier
Wealth no bounds
Morality and legality were savaged
As we named them savages

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