Historically, climate and human rights have been managed and addressed separately—governed by different policy frameworks, addressed by different communities of practice, managed by different tools, and treated in isolation.

But, as we’re starting to understand, climate change and human rights are intimately connected. The known impacts of climate change undermine a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the right to life, health, food, adequate standard of living, housing, property, and water. The absence of adequate protection for human rights exacerbates vulnerability to climate impacts, magnifying the risk faced by marginalized communities, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Such marginalized communities are often at the heart of global supply chains. If their vulnerability increases, the strength and resilience of supply chains drops, leaving businesses exposed to operational risk. Forward-thinking businesses are considering ways to align climate and human rights policies to increase their resilience and that of affected communities.

Today, BSR is pleased to launch a new report that helps business to understand and accelerate this alignment. Our key message is that businesses should begin merging their understanding and management of the two issues, and view the risks and mitigation tactics as interrelated.

The actions taken by business to ensure access to human rights will mean that workers are able to protect their assets, recover quickly, and remain engaged in the workforce should a climate event take place. That’s good for workers, good for suppliers, and good for global brands.   

The actions taken by business to ensure access to human rights will mean that workers are able to protect their assets, recover quickly, and remain engaged in the workforce should a climate event take place.

The critical first step is to conduct due diligence to understand human rights and climate-related impacts as well as the scope of corporate responsibility to prevent harm. We propose a three-step approach to address the interactions of climate change and human rights in vulnerable communities, leveraging the due diligence framework established in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs):

  1. Map where in a company’s operations, or in the operations of significant suppliers, the company is working within a climate-vulnerable community with weak realization of human rights, exacerbating the community’s vulnerability.
  2. Determine the scope of responsibility through the lens of the UNGPs’ “cause, contribute, and directly linked” framework. Where a company’s operations, or the operations of a significant business partner, increase the vulnerability of communities facing climate-related risks, the company has an obligation to prevent the negative impact from occurring, or to engage with key business partners to do so.
  3. Determine an appropriate remedy. We propose investment in capital assets, which have been shown to significantly improve a community’s resilience to climate change. Human rights provides an entry point into several types of capital assets, and companies can direct investments in these assets to strengthen human rights and thus strengthen climate resilience. In some cases, companies should consider going beyond “respect” and into the areas of strategic rights promotion and ecosystem change to leverage business resources to support people who are most susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change.

In conjunction with these actions, leading companies will adopt a policy clearly stating their corporate commitment to climate resilience and respect for human rights. They will also provide transparency and accountability: Improved disclosure and better-quality reporting of the financial risks and opportunities at the nexus of climate change and human rights will benefit companies’ relations with investors, stakeholders, and the public.

The nexus of climate change and human rights can seem intimidating, but there is opportunity in this space, too. Companies that go beyond their duty to respect human rights will likely realize returns on investment in the form of stronger and more resilient supply chains, in addition to the positive outcome of advancing human rights in vulnerable communities.

Businesses that act now to address the human rights implications of climate change can gain a long-term competitive advantage. To learn more about how to do so, read our new report, Climate and Human Rights: The Business Case for Action.

BSR’s climate and human rights nexus report is the fifth in our series, which also includes reports on the intersection between climate and supply chainshealth, inclusive economy, and women’s empowerment. Stay tuned for more on the connections between climate resilience and a just transition to the low-carbon economy in the months to come.