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Impacts of businesses on human rights

Often it is difficult to assess the impact of business practices where the sites of the actions are far from the source of production, as may be visible at large infrastructure sites or in extractive industries. However, the lives of local communities are disrupted when their health, land, water, air and livelihoods are adversely impacted by certain business actions and products. Our project aims to shift the focus to safeguarding the rights of affected communities, by revealing the links between unsustainable packaging and product design, and its adverse impacts on the human rights of vulnerable groups, including the urban poor and informal sector workers. 

Unsustainable packaging and product design are among the most intractable obstacles to sustainable solid waste practices in India. Non-recyclable materials are a product of bad business practices that have an adverse impact on human rights and the environment. This is not due to the dearth of knowledge on effective management of waste but due to a lack of political will and business ethics. Companies may undertake assessments of their practices but these are usually from the point of view of managing business risks and not for effecting any real change. Governments look at this as a problem of shifting waste from the point where it is generated to landfills, which are usually outside the city and in case of Chennai, even near water bodies. UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights consider the assessment of human rights impacts as a key component of corporate responsibility and human rights due diligence. While it is evident that companies across the world have impacts on human rights - both positive and negative, we need concrete evidence of the interaction between businesses and human rights so that we minimise adverse ones and optimise the positive contributions. 

By supporting a community-led Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) at the Kodungaiyur dumpsite in Chennai, we will enable communities to gather information, drive process that they can frame with their own understanding of human rights, and engage with businesses and governments on a more informed and equal footing. Our activities would address specific public policy challenges associated with urban governance, transparency and accountability. The research components, including the HRIA and waste characterisation studies, will scientifically establish links between business practices and human rights. Demystified and easily-available information will equip impacted populations and public policy advocates with the knowledge to seek remedy. The training and workshops with communities will change their knowledge, skills and effectiveness. Working together would promote more collective action among civil society groups, and using an established scientific method would increase the legitimacy of their demands. The longer term impact of this is increased participation of civil society in influencing policy decisions and their ability to hold governments and businesses accountable. 

Our proposed intervention can be seen to lead to three interrelated impacts on the environment for advocacy.

Evidence-based approach will contribute to making informed policymaking. Our project proposes to create knowledge that does not currently exist. It will establish a methodology to identify and document the impacts of waste on human rights. This can be seen as a first step to improving transparency and accountability in this sector.

Community or civil society-led HRIA will place rights holders at the centre of business processes. It will empower them to create their own data and document information that they can leverage in a decision-making process. The rights holders can determine how this knowledge is used and to maximise benefits to themselves.

Multi-stakeholder approach will foster dialogue and collaboration among civil society groups. This can be a significant way to address the power imbalance and information asymmetries that exist between communities and civil society organisations on the one hand, and businesses and governments on the other. This can enable communities make demands on precise remedies to the harm that they experience.