Land is life. Regardless of geographical location and socioeconomic status, each person relies on land, at least to some degree, for the provision of basic human needs such as clean water to drink, nutritious food to eat, and safe housing to shelter in.
In many cases, the planet’s most vulnerable populations also directly rely on land in farming, hunting, gathering and carrying out other tasks for daily subsistence and in maintaining their and their families’ livelihoods and cultural identities.
Almost 75% of the world’s poor are affected directly by land degradation.
Business activities can have a wide range of impacts on people in relation to land. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “[a]n increasing number of people are forcibly evicted or displaced from their land to make way for large-scale development or business projects, such as dams, mines, oil and gas installations or ports.” What’s more, “[i]n many countries the shift to large-scale farming has also led to forced evictions, displacements and local food insecurity, which in turn has contributed to an increase in rural to urban migration and consequently further pressure on access to urban land and housing.”
Land quality is closely linked to a healthy environment and sustainable access to natural resources. As such, land degradation connected to private sector activities can have significantly negative and widespread effects on people, for instance due to higher levels of water and air pollution or lack of access to firewood and other essential energy sources.
Access to, use of and control over land directly affect people’s enjoyment of their human rights. For example, “[f]or many people, land is a source of livelihood, and is central to economic rights. Land is also often linked to peoples’ identities, and so is tied to social and cultural rights.” Moreover, “the human rights aspects of land affect a range of issues including poverty reduction and development, peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, disaster prevention and recovery, urban and rural planning, to name but a few. Emerging global issues, such as food insecurity, climate change and rapid urbanization, have also refocused attention on how land is being used, controlled and managed by States and private actors.”
Approximately 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including around 70 million indigenous people.
Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), land-related human rights issues are of particular concern in the context of business impacts on indigenous populations. For instance, UNDRIP and other frameworks such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards require the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples for business activities that pose actual or potential impacts on their land and associated human rights.
As illustrated above, and depending on the specifics of the relevant corporate initiative, addressing land rights in the context of business activities may contribute to the achievement of an array of the Global Goals, including:
So, how are companies currently supporting a world in which these goals can become a reality – a world in which land-related human rights are respected across all areas of business activity?
Examples illustrated by the case studies below include:
These case studies explore each of these innovative and evolving models in more detail. Each case study captures publicly available information on the initiative, alongside experiences and opinions from various actors involved.
The summaries do not claim to give a definitive account of a specific initiative or of all perspectives on that case study; instead, they are intended to serve as illustrative examples of how action toward corporate respect for human rights can make a critical contribution to the achievement of various goals and targets under the SDGs.
Supporting community-based oversight bodies to address Aboriginal rights
Piloting new models to address risks to land rights in the palm oil industry
Going beyond compliance to engage rights-holders early and often