Closeup of a logging operation and a felled tree in the foreground


By causing or contributing to water, soil and air pollution, deforestation, displacements that result from desertification or floods caused by climate change, and other negative impacts on the environment, companies can and often do negatively impact a broad range of human rights. Salient human rights impacts associated with the environment include the rights to health, food, water, and life. 

For example, hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" operations have polluted local drinking water in the United States and Argentina. In Bangladesh, the ship-breaking industry has released toxic products into the local environment, impacting the the health of communities. In that same case, air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global death toll in 2016.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment recommends that companies issue clear policy commitments to meet their responsibility to respect human rights through environmental protection, including by conducting human rights due diligence processes to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address their environmental impacts on human rights, and provide remediation of any adverse environmental human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute. For example, companies should (1) identify any soil and water contamination at its site or sites, (2) assess real or potential environmental impacts, (3) remedy any significant contamination, and (4) develop a climate strategy that identifies opportunities to reduce the company’s energy consumption and/or emissions of greenhouse gases. 

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