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Human Rights & SDGs

Align water stewardship practices with broader sustainable development efforts

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Water stewardship also supports broader social and environmental goals, notably the realization of human rights and the anticipated Sustainable Development Goals. By implementing water stewardship, you inherently advance these broader objectives. However, there are also some critical considerations to keep in mind to ensure that stewardship practice aligns with efforts to advance these broader goals.

Respect and support human rights

Core Steps
  • Implement processes to understand impacts on human rights to water and sanitation
  • Implement actions to address identified human rights impacts
  • Support realization of human rights to water and sanitation for all

Business Benefits

  • Maintain license to operate
  • Build brand value and strengthen reputation
  • Contribute to realization of Sustainable Development Goals


Proactively respecting human rights ensures that your company identifies, manages, and prevents adverse impacts to human rights. In doing so, you abide by the law, strengthen your license to operate, and build your reputation and brand value.

What? How?

Tackling the social dimensions of water stewardship will require that you confront water-related human rights, particularly making sure you effectively meet your responsibility to respect the human rights to water and sanitation. As per the UN Guiding Principles, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights by to proactively identifying and managing their negative human rights impacts, including those they are linked to through their business relationships. No matter where you are in the water stewardship progression, you can make meaningful progress toward respecting the human rights to water and sanitation. At the same time, fully respecting the human rights to water and sanitation inherently requires action across the entire Water Stewardship Progression.

Once you have implemented systems and procedures to ensure you proactively respect human rights, you can also choose to actively support human rights by facilitating community WASH projects and other activities. Though this can be an incredibly helpful and valuable endeavor, it also brings with it many risks and challenges. Supporting human rights requires nuanced, balanced, and sophisticated action that puts the needs and interests of rights holders above business needs.

The CEO Water Mandate’s Guidance for Companies on Respecting the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation offers a comprehensive approach for incorporating human rights considerations into your water stewardship practice.

Contributing to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals

Water is also a critical component of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, water and sanitation are expected to form a dedicated goal in the upcoming SDGs because of their great importance and the degree to which they inform and support the realization of many other critical development goals.

As with human rights, water stewardship and the SDGs are mutually-compatible frameworks with a high degree of overlap. Water stewardship practices inherently advance many of the SDGs, whether they be improving water governance, addressing water pollution, or securing consistent access to WASH services. Also like human rights, robustly contributing to water-related SDGs requires action across the Water Stewardship Progression, from operational practices to collective action to supplier engagement.

The SDGs offer a particularly compelling framework for action as they allow coordination and communication across water and other important issue areas like poverty alleviation, climate mitigation and adaptation, renewable energy, and other topics. The SDGs also offer a helpful, commonly-understood framework for companies to measure progress and demonstrate meaningful contributions toward the achievement of global goals for socially and environmentally sustainable development.


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CEO Guide to the SDGs (2017)

Primary Functions:

  • Sets out clear actions that CEOs can take to begin to align their organizations with the SDGs
Purpose: SDGs
Scope: Corporate
Type: Guidance

Developed by: World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Scaling Corporate Action on WASH in Supply Chains – White Paper (2016)

Primary Functions:

  • Provides an overview of challenges and approaches that companies take to scaling action on WASH in their supply chains
  • Lays out potential next steps for facilitating further corporate action
Purpose: Provide WASH (Operations) Value chain engagement (Engagement) Human rights SDGs
Scope: Corporate Value Chain
Type: Discussion Paper
Sectors: Agriculture Apparel Beverage Metals & mining Oil & gas

Developed by: CEO Water Mandate, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and WaterAid

Private sector and water supply, sanitation and hygiene (2015)

Primary Functions:

  • Learn how your company can engage in support of universal access to and use of WASH
  • Identify actionable to encourage catalytic forms of engagement between private sector organisations and institutions working on WASH
Purpose: Provide WASH (Operations) Collective action (Engagement) SDGs
Scope: Corporate
Type: Discussion Paper

Developed by: Overseas Development Institute

SDG Compass (2015)

Primary Functions:

  • Learn how you can align your strategies as well as measure and manage your contribution to the realization of the SDGs.
Purpose: SDGs
Scope: Corporate
Type: Guidance

Developed by: UN Global Compact, Global Reporting Initiative, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Bringing a Human Rights Lens to Corporate Water Stewardship (2012)

Primary Functions:

  • Understand international and legal trends related to the human rights to water and sanitation
  • Identify potential synergies between respecting human rights and existing water stewardship efforts
Purpose: Human rights
Scope: Corporate
Type: Discussion Paper

Developed by: CEO Water Mandate, Shift

Case Studies

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