Throughout its history, CESR has undertaken successful initiatives at the intersection of environmental justice and economic and social rights. Much of this has focused on corporate accountability for environmental degradation and violations of the economic and social rights of marginalized communities and Indigenous peoples. CESR has worked on projects around the world to support local partners in collecting evidence to demonstrate how the practices of multinational extractive companies, based primarily in the Global North but operating in the Global South, have led to violations of economic and social rights as well as environmental degradation.
In Nigeria and Ecuador, CESR worked with local partners to scrutinize how practices of multinational oil companies had harmful effects on the rights to health, a healthy environment and housing of local communities. In both cases, CESR used human rights accountability mechanisms at the global and regional levels to hold both the corporations and governments accountable for their actions. In Nigeria, CESR partnered with the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) to bring the first ever complaint on economic and social rights before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In 2002 the Commission called on Nigeria to investigate the human rights violations documented by CESR and SERAC, provide redress to those affected and conduct social and environmental impact assessments before any further oil development in the region. A significant victory was also achieved in Ecuador in 2011, when Chevron was ordered by a provincial court in Ecuador to pay $9 billion in compensation for the environmental and health impacts of oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
CESR is currently working to address the links between fiscal and environmental justice in the Andean region, in partnership with representatives of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities who are most impacted by the operations of extractive industries on their lands. Its work focuses on the lack of participation of affected communities in fiscal decision-making processes. CESR is also working in Botswana, along with the Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLama) and the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University to assess the right to health of diamond mine workers, examining labor issues associated with the hazardous mining industry, and calling on the government to undertake both human rights and environmental impact assessments.
CESR has also addressed the human rights implications of the climate crisis, analyzing the relationship between inequality and climate change, and advocating for the rights-based economic policy shifts needed to combat global warming and fund sustainable development. CESR provided commentary around the Conference of Parties’ 2010 COP16 in Cancun, underscoring the global inequalities resulting from climate change and calling on wealthy countries to adhere to their extraterritorial obligations. A joint 2015 publication between CESR and Third World Network, Universal Rights, Differentiated Responsibilities, further explores how these obligations can help to determine States’ “common but differentiated responsibilities” to act against climate change. It recommends progressive fiscal policies, such as the financial transaction tax, to finance the SDGs, as well as programs aimed at climate change mitigation. CESR’s briefing on SDG10, From Disparity to Dignity, explains how business-friendly global trade and tax policies prevent poorer countries facing the worst climate impacts from taxing multinationals in ways that could mobilize domestic resources to combat climate change.
International human rights experts are now increasingly sounding the alarm on climate change and inequality. In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned that without adequate responses, the world faces the possibility of a “climate apartheid.” The vicious cycle of climate change and inequality is painfully evident as the world’s most deprived communities and countries, least responsible for contributing to climate change and ill-equipped to respond to it, face its most serious effects, leaving them even worse off.
CESR is currently spearheading a collaborative project with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Nazdeek, a legal empowerment organization based in India, researching the potential impacts of climate change on economic and social inequalities and rights. The work will include a field study in India to investigate how climate change contributes to inequalities and the erosion of rights and to scrutinize the policies intended to address these impacts.
As the climate crisis continues to drive violations of economic and social rights and increase inequality around the world, the human rights community will need to join forces with other movements working to achieve social and climate justice to combat the deep structural factors that drive climate change and inequality and pursue the transformative changes necessary to best serve those worst off in the face of this planetary crisis.