Expectations that business will respect, and in some cases support or help fulfill, internationally recognized human rights have increased over the past decade. Businesses have recognized the importance of effective management systems in responding to these expectations and protecting core resources needed in their own activities. As such, all endorsing companies of the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate have agreed to the UN Global Compact’s Principles, the first two of which address human rights explicitly. With the unanimous endorsement of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“Guiding Principles”) by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, business now has an authoritative global reference point to turn to when seeking to understand how to meet their responsibility to respect human rights.
When it comes to the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS), CEO Water Mandate endorsing companies recognized early on that what was then an emerging concept would have important implications for all of the Mandate’s six core elements: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement, and transparency. Mandate endorsers further recognized that this is an evolving and complex area that is often not well understood by businesses and that it could therefore benefit from further exploration. With formal recognition by governments of the human right to water and sanitation in 2010, and the endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles in 2011, Mandate endorsers saw an opportune moment for the development of practical guidance on how businesses can meet their responsibility to respect this right. In particular, there is a perceived need for greater understanding of how companies can align their policies and processes with respect for the HRWS in the context of evolving corporate water stewardship practices.
To meet this need, the Mandate, together with key project partners, will seek to develop practical guidance for businesses on implementing their responsibility to respect the human right to water and sanitation. Recognizing the significant work already undertaken in relation to businesses as water service providers, the guidance will instead focus on businesses that are large-scale water users.
The guidance should assist large-scale water-using companies by providing useful approaches to, and concrete examples of, what respect for the human right to water and sanitation means in practice. The guidance will also help provide pointers on supporting the HRWS, for example by highlighting the ways in which meeting the responsibility to respect can lay the foundation for effective support of this right in the context of broader corporate water stewardship goals.