27 Nov 2023
Venue: Palais des Nations | Room XXVI & Online
Organization: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, Peru, Ecuador, Center for International Environmental Law, Geneva Environment Network
This event taking place during the 12th United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights highlighted the alarming impact of plastics on human rights and the environment and showcase the urgency to progress with an international binding treaty to end plastic pollution, as well as discuss strategies and good practices for businesses to achieve effective human rights and environmental due diligence throughout the entire lifecycle of plastic. This event is organized by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Peru, Ecuador, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Geneva Environment Network, with the support of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.
About this Session
All people everywhere have the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as recently recognized by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 48/13 and the General Assembly in its resolution 76/300. Clean air, a safe climate, access to safe water and adequate sanitation, healthy and sustainably produced food, non-toxic environments in which to live, work, study and play, and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems are generally recognized as key elements of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (OHCHR-UNEP/UNDP).
Our planet is polluted by plastics which contain chemicals that are seriously harmful to people and the environment. Plastics are accumulating in food chains, contaminating water, soil, and air, and releasing hazardous substances into the environment. Most plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave. Recent scientific studies have found microplastics in human blood, lungs, and placenta, as well as in livestock feed and milk and meat products. Exposure to toxic chemicals often found in plastics can also affect future generations, impacting fertility, shortening gestation periods, and lowering birth weights.
On 2 March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a historic resolution (5/14) which paves the way for the development of an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution including in the marine environment. A treaty that addresses the full life cycle of plastics, closing governance gaps is crucial if we are to comprehensively address plastic pollution.
As recognized in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all businesses, including those in the plastics sector, have a responsibility to respect human rights. This session discussed the commitments business enterprises should have in place to identify, prevent any negative human rights impacts stemming from the lifecycle of plastics, including production, design, use and disposal. Commitments should include, for example, effective human rights and environmental due diligence, disclosure of the full chemical composition of their plastic materials and products and clear provisions on transparency and conflict of interest as a means to ensure that corporate political engagement is responsible and rights-respecting.
At this session, leading experts:
- Highlighted the alarming impact of plastics on human rights and the environment and showcase the urgency to progress with an international binding treaty to end plastic pollution.
- Reinforced the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in the context of plastics, and particularly in relation to the rights of those most affected by plastic production and pollution including children, women, Indigenous Peoples, coastal communities, people living in extreme poverty, surrounding communities affected by plastic production facilities, and workers at heightened risk of occupational exposure like waste-pickers.
- Discussed strategies and good practices for businesses to achieve effective human rights and environmental due diligence throughout the entire lifecycle of plastic.
- Emphasized the importance of ensuring transparency and accountability to ensure corporate engagement is responsible and rights-respecting.
About the 12th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights
The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights is the world’s largest annual gathering on business and human rights with more than 2,000 participants from government, business, community groups and civil society, law firms, investor organisations, UN bodies, national human rights institutions, trade unions, academia and the media.
Over three days, participants take part in 60+ panel discussions on topics that relate to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework), as well as current business-related human rights issues. The Forum is the foremost event to network, share experiences and learn about the latest initiatives to promote corporate respect for human rights.
After more than 12 years of normative development that has established business and human rights standards in line with the UNGPs, this year’s Forum, under the theme “Towards Effective Change in Implementing Obligations, Responsibilities and Remedies”, will reflect on the actual changes that have occurred in the implementation of these standards. These include the actions that States have taken to incorporate these standards through regulation and policies, the extent to which businesses have applied these standards in their practices throughout their operations, and whether judicial and non-judicial remedies in this area are more available and accessible to those negatively impacted by business-related human rights abuses.
This Forum provides an opportunity to reflect critically on the changes that have been made since the UNGPs were adopted, with a particular focus on sharing examples and stories of positive change. Participants will consider whether and to what extent these changes have proved effective, especially for rights-holders, and what still needs to be achieved.
María Daniela GARCÍA
Deputy Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the World Trade Organization
Global Public Affairs Lead, Packaging & Sustainability, Nestlé | Member of the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty
Director, Collaborations, BSR | Director, Fair Circularity Initiative (FCI) Secretariat
Programme Coordinator, Human Rights Campaign and Policy Advocacy Programme, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact
Director of the Geneva Office and of the Environmental Health Program, Center for International Environmental Law | Moderator
Live from Palais des Nations.
Live on Facebook.
- Presentation made during the event
- End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument – UNEA Resolution 5/14
- Zero draft text of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment – UNEP/PP/INC.3/4
- Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Report on the Implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
- Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 25: Science and economic, social and cultural rights
- 12th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights Sched link
- How can the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights inform the negotiations on a new legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution | United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights
- Environment @ 12th United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights
- Business, Environmental Human Rights, and the Role of Geneva
- Plastics and the Environment