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Special Issue "Business, Human Rights and the Environment"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Geography and Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Olga Martin-Ortega
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Law and Criminology, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Greenwich, London SE10 9BD, UK
Interests: business and human rights; transparency and human rights due diligence; electronics supply chain; public procurement; modern slavery and human trafficking
Prof. Valerie Nelson
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Livelihoods and Institutions Department, Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Chatham ME4 4TB, UK
Interests: sustainable trade and responsible business; sustainable agriculture and natural resources; climate adaptation, gender, and diversity
Dr. Renginee G. Pillay
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Law and Criminology, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Greenwich, London SE10 9BD, UK
Interests: corporate social responsibility; corporate accountability; corporate governance; corporate sustainability; corporate law; business and human rights; law and development; neoliberalism and the law; social movements
Ms. Fatimazahra Dehbi
E-Mail Website
Co-Guest Editor
Business, Human Rights and the Environment Research Group, School of Law and Criminology, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Greenwich, London SE10 9BD, UK
Interests: international human rights, international environmental law, business and human rights, technology and human rights

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The relationship between human rights and the environment, including the existence of a human right to a clean environment, has been on the international policy and scholarly agenda for over two decades. Equally, the dynamics between business activities and corporations’ working methods and their impact on human rights have been developing at the policy and legal levels. However, whilst “the environment” is often tagged on in discussions relating to business and human rights, corporate accountability for human rights and legal initiatives relating to the protection of the environment have run in parallel in their normative development with little interaction. More recently, there have been increasing efforts to articulate this interaction by integrating environmental rights into the UN Draft Treaty on Business and Human Rights, amalgamating human rights and environmental issues as part of nonfinancial reporting, and including environmental considerations within human rights due diligence strategies, plus an increasing wave of climate litigation action which considers the human rights dimension of environmental harm. However, the disconnect is still patent in many areas, including the weak human rights normative approach to the UN Sustainable Development Goals or the lack of reference to the role of business in the proposed UN Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment (2018).

This Special Issue will explore the advances and deficiencies in the theoretical and practical integration of human rights and the environment within the business and human rights framework as well as the role and impact of greater integration for achieving positive social and environmental change. It welcomes submissions from different fields, including law, business, development studies, politics, and international relations.

Specific issues we would particularly welcome include natural resources, impacts of climate change, human rights and environmental due diligence, remedies and access to justice for human rights and environmental harm interrelated, corporate human rights, and environmental harms in the context of armed conflicts and transitional justice.

Prof. Olga Martin-Ortega
Prof. Valerie Nelson
Dr. Renginee G. Pillay
Ms. Fatimazahra Dehbi
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • business and human rights
  • supply chain
  • corporate accountability
  • justice
  • environment
  • United Nations Guiding Principles
  • climate change
  • human rights due diligence

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

Article
Business, Human Rights and the Environment—Using Macro Legal Analysis to Develop a Legal Framework That Coherently Addresses the Root Causes of Corporate Human Rights Violations and Environmental Degradation
Sustainability 2021, 13(22), 12709; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212709 - 17 Nov 2021
Viewed by 336
Abstract
This article applies ‘macro’ legal analysis to the challenge of legal reform related to corporate responsibility for human rights violations and degradation of the environment. It recognises that the approaches from different communities of lawyers to the negative impacts on human rights and [...] Read more.
This article applies ‘macro’ legal analysis to the challenge of legal reform related to corporate responsibility for human rights violations and degradation of the environment. It recognises that the approaches from different communities of lawyers to the negative impacts on human rights and the environment caused by companies, sometimes operate in isolation from each other, are not always mutually supportive, can lead to a fragmentation of effort, and may not address the root causes of the problem. In particular, this article analyses the extent to which existing approaches tend to address symptoms of the issues, rather than the root causes themselves. It makes the case that in this regard specific root causes exist within the frameworks of corporate law in all jurisdictions and various aspects of international economic law too. To carry out the study, it employs macro legal analysis, a methodology not previously applied in this field, as a means of developing an understanding of the legal frameworks that, it argues, influence corporate decision making that can affect human rights and the environment. It undertakes an analysis that incorporates relevant corporate law, World Trade Organisation (WTO) law, international investment law, the law relating to multilateral development banks (MDBs), and international insurance law. By using this form of anlaysis it is possible to show how legal frameworks can operate in unison, reinforcing each other providing a cumulative effect that can influence corporate decision makers. Finally, based on the results of the analysis, it suggests a possible strategy of macro-level reforms that could be applied to the re-design of relevant legal frameworks to better facilitate the full protection of human rights and to achieve net zero degradation of the environment. As a result it seeks to demonstrate how this approach can be strategically applied by both human rights and environmental lawyers as a common pathway towards effective legal reform. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
Article
Counter Corporate Litigation: Remedy, Regulation, and Repression in the Struggle for a Just Transition
Sustainability 2021, 13(19), 10742; https://doi.org/10.3390/su131910742 - 27 Sep 2021
Viewed by 617
Abstract
Hundreds of human rights and environmental cases against corporations have been launched in countries around the world in the past two decades. This body of counter corporate litigation—legal actions that involve attempts to enforce legal or normative standards against business entities—forms a significant [...] Read more.
Hundreds of human rights and environmental cases against corporations have been launched in countries around the world in the past two decades. This body of counter corporate litigation—legal actions that involve attempts to enforce legal or normative standards against business entities—forms a significant part of the legal struggles shaping the transition to a sustainable economy. However, the question remains—how does litigation against companies fit with the larger patterns of reform? In this paper, I draw on a taxonomy of sustainability litigation to describe three functions of counter corporate litigation: remedy, the search for justice through legal action; regulation, the enforcement of legal standards through the courts; and repression, the proscription of predatory business models. I argue that research into counter corporate litigation helps to illuminate the priorities for legal reform, including the integration of human rights and the environment into legal instruments governing corporate activities, transnational approaches to corporate accountability, and a willingness to challenge unsustainable business models. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
Article
The UNGPs on Business and Human Rights and the Greening of Human Rights Litigation: Fishing in Fragmented Waters?
Sustainability 2021, 13(19), 10516; https://doi.org/10.3390/su131910516 - 22 Sep 2021
Viewed by 593
Abstract
This article is written around the time a Dutch court ordered the corporate group Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 2030. The aim of the article is to contribute to the conceptualisation of the phenomenon this judgement unveils in terms of greening [...] Read more.
This article is written around the time a Dutch court ordered the corporate group Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 2030. The aim of the article is to contribute to the conceptualisation of the phenomenon this judgement unveils in terms of greening human rights litigation supported by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). It addresses, firstly, how claiming the protection of the Earth before courts is occurring in a highly fragmented legal, economic and social context as a way to overcome the multiple obstacles flagged by the literature on the UNGPs. Secondly, it assesses how human rights litigation seeking global justice has evolved in waves with common trends, such as activism from social actors and courts that rely on arguments based on progressive soft law. Thirdly, it identifies two trends in the current wave of green litigation: the anthropocentric perspective that claims the protection of the Earth in the public interest and the ecocentric perspective that claims autonomous rights for Mother Earth. Finally, the article flags some gaps in this third wave of human rights litigation, particularly the risk of disregarding the third pillar of the UNGPs: access to an effective remedy for marginalised communities that are not aware of these ongoing developments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
Article
Risk-Based Due Diligence, Climate Change, Human Rights and the Just Transition
Sustainability 2021, 13(18), 10454; https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810454 - 20 Sep 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1171
Abstract
Climate change has been described as one of the greatest threats to people and the planet. Its impacts affect virtually the entire spectrum of internationally recognised human rights as well as the environment in and of itself. In relation to human rights, there [...] Read more.
Climate change has been described as one of the greatest threats to people and the planet. Its impacts affect virtually the entire spectrum of internationally recognised human rights as well as the environment in and of itself. In relation to human rights, there is a growing consensus that companies should exercise human rights due diligence in order to identify and prevent their actual and potential adverse impacts. However, the relevance and implications of the concept of the due diligence have not yet fully been analysed in relation to climate change. In this paper, we explore the concept of risk-based due diligence, which builds on the concept of human rights due diligence but extends it to other areas such as the environment. Through a review of recent regulatory developments as well as case-law and other grievances, we analyse the three facets of risk-based due diligence for climate change—prevention, mitigation and remediation. We consider both the short term as well as the longer-term human rights and environmental implications of companies’ climate-related impacts, as well as those resulting from the company’s contributions to the green transition. We argue that risk-based due diligence offers an under-explored but important dual function: providing the operational means through which companies can identify and address the climate-related human rights and environmental impacts with which they may be involved, whilst also taking into consideration the human rights implications of their climate mitigation strategies and contributions to the just transition. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
Article
Integrating Human Rights and the Environment in Supply Chain Regulations
Sustainability 2021, 13(17), 9666; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13179666 - 27 Aug 2021
Viewed by 803
Abstract
To address the negative externalities associated with global trade, countries in the Global North have increasingly adopted supply chain regulations. While global supply chains cause or contribute to interconnected environmental and human rights impacts, I show that supply chain regulations often exclusively target [...] Read more.
To address the negative externalities associated with global trade, countries in the Global North have increasingly adopted supply chain regulations. While global supply chains cause or contribute to interconnected environmental and human rights impacts, I show that supply chain regulations often exclusively target one policy domain. Furthermore, an analysis of the first experiences with the implementation of the French Duty of Vigilance law, which covers and gives equal weight to environmental and human rights risks, reveals that the inclusion of environmental and human rights standards in legal norms is not sufficient to ensure policy integration. The empirical focus here is on the soy and beef supply chains from Brazil to the European Union (EU), and the findings rely on an analysis of legal norms and company reports, field research at producing sites in Brazil and semi-structured interviews with civil society, business and state actors. For analyzing the data, I draw on the literature on environmental policy integration (EPI) and apply a framework that distinguishes between institutional, political and cognitive factors to discuss advances and challenges for integrating human rights and the environment in sustainability governance. The study concludes that more integrated approaches for regulating global supply chains would be needed to enable ‘just sustainability’. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
Article
Sustainable Public Procurement and Human Rights: Barriers to Deliver on Socially Sustainable Road Infrastructure Projects in Mexico
Sustainability 2021, 13(17), 9605; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13179605 - 26 Aug 2021
Viewed by 650
Abstract
Public procurement involves a process through which the public sector buys goods, services and works from private suppliers to accomplish its functions, including road infrastructure projects. Sustainability, both within the procurement process and the infrastructure outcome, comprises economic, environmental and social dimensions. Sustainable [...] Read more.
Public procurement involves a process through which the public sector buys goods, services and works from private suppliers to accomplish its functions, including road infrastructure projects. Sustainability, both within the procurement process and the infrastructure outcome, comprises economic, environmental and social dimensions. Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) is acknowledged as a core dimension of sustainable development goal 12 (SDG12) on sustainable consumption by States and production by businesses, and as a State-business nexus within Pilar I of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Clearly, SPP delivering sustainable infrastructure involves broad positive effects and benefits for involved stakeholders and leveraging power over business suppliers to include social sustainable criteria within the procurement process is in the State’s hands. However, SPP has been little implemented in developing States such as Mexico resulting in unsustainable infrastructure outcomes. This article explores, through two case studies, the barriers of socially sustainable public procurement of road infrastructure developed by businesses contracted by the State in Mexico. By identifying such barriers, the Mexican State could be able to implement measures to tackle them and deliver on social sustainable infrastructure aligned with its commitments on sustainable development goals and its international obligations on human rights. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
Article
Business, Human Rights and Climate Due Diligence: Understanding the Responsibility of Banks
Sustainability 2021, 13(15), 8391; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13158391 - 27 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1658
Abstract
Under the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), banks, like all businesses, have a responsibility to respect human rights and to carry out human rights due diligence. Although climate due diligence is not explicitly included in the UNGPs, tackling [...] Read more.
Under the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), banks, like all businesses, have a responsibility to respect human rights and to carry out human rights due diligence. Although climate due diligence is not explicitly included in the UNGPs, tackling an enterprise’s direct and indirect climate change impacts is arguably a dimension of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and should form part of the human rights due diligence process. At present, it is unclear how such responsibility applies to banks, whose contribution to climate change is mostly indirect. This article addresses the research question: how should the law be interpreted to form a coherent climate due diligence standard for banks? To address it, the article first maps out the climate responsibility of banks under international soft law standards and assesses privately developed guidance. It then elucidates the emerging concept of climate due diligence, reading climate change responsibilities into the now well-established corporate responsibility to respect human rights as authoritatively elaborated in the UNGPs. Finally, it explains how such normative standard applies to banks and unpacks the key elements that a bank’s climate due diligence process should include. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business, Human Rights and the Environment)
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