Our Mission: The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) is dedicated to being a global centre of excellence and expertise on the relationship between business and internationally proclaimed human rights standards...more

IHRB Programmes: Natural Resources

The acquisition, use and management of natural resources are key political and contentious issues in many emerging economies. The Institute works on drafting due diligence principles on land and water, in particular, and has held a number of regional research convenings during the past two years to help shape this work.

The Institute has identified a clear need for consultative research, multi-stakeholder convenings, policy guidance and advocacy focused on the role of the private sector concerning natural resources, specifically on issues relating to land and water.


Land is a key resource for communities, governments and companies. Farmers want to grow crops; families want safe places to live; states want to expand public infrastructure; factories want to manufacture; mining and oil companies want to drill; and developers want to build office towers or residential homes.

There is no human right to land, but land is intimately connected with human rights, including the right to property, the right to adequate standard of living, the rights to food, water, health, and other rights, such as the right against forced eviction, and non-discrimination, are related to access to land.

Most businesses need land, but in the conflicting demands over land, and alternative uses, conflict emerges between businesses and communities, which can often lead to human rights abuses.

The Institute for Human Rights and Business has followed the dynamic of land and human rights and organised stakeholder consultations in India (2009), South Africa (2010), Colombia (2010), and Kenya (2011) and prepared guidance for land access, acquisition, and use, which is currently undergoing consultation. Over a hundred experts from business, civil society, and international organizations have participated in these convenings.

The Institute has also participated in the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) with regard to land tenure, and examined the trend of overseas investments to access land in the developing world.

The Institute has embarked on a multi-stakeholder process to develop further guidance relating to acquisition, access, and use of land, and its forthcoming project includes exploring the question of eminent domain. While good practice requires companies to adhere to the principles of free, prior and informed consent, states have the right to invoke eminent domain to take over land even if the community may not wish to move from the land. This has often resulted in violence. How can companies act in ways that respect rights? The Institute will study ways in which and the laws through which the state takes over private land ostensibly for public use, but often the beneficiaries are other private businesses.


Over a billion people do not have access to clean water and over 2.4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. While human rights law does not require that states alone can provide water, nor does it say that the private sector cannot provide water, in countries as diverse as Bolivia, Tanzania, South Africa, and the Philippines, consumers and local communities have protested against private sector water provision.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to make the human right to water internationally recognised, including the General Comment of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, the work of the Independent Expert on the Right to Water and Sanitation, and sustained campaigning of several human rights NGOs.

In 2010 the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council affirmed the human right to water and sanitation. While the resolutions said that the primary obligation rests with the state, companies have the responsibility to respect the right both as providers and users of water. Several companies have already declared their support for the right to water but far fewer for sanitation.

The Institute for Human Rights and Business has been active with regard to the right to water. Its first convening – in 2008, in Washington DC – brought together businesses, environmental groups, human rights experts, representatives of international organisations, and other relevant stakeholders. Since then, the Institute has worked with various stakeholders, including the CEO Water Mandate of the UN Global Compact, and in 2009, organised a convening with the special rapporteur on the right to food and the independent expert on the right to water and sanitation, with a view to examine if there was any conflict [29 pages] between the right to food and the right to water. In March 2011, the Institute published a draft position paper on corporate responsibility with regard to the right to water.

The Institute will draw on feedback from all stakeholders and develop projects to complement and support the work of the Independent Expert with a view to explore the range of human rights implications linked to access to water, particularly in areas of water scarcity as well as in contexts of pollution of aquifers or rivers by business activity, and expand on the Protect-Respect-Remedy framework.

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