After more than five years of investigation into murders, beatings, and intimidations of environmental defenders, United Nations special reporter John Knox is calling for the UN to formally recognize the right to a healthy environment. This, at a time when, “The world is deadlier than ever for land and environmental defenders, with agribusiness the industry most linked to killings.” Formally recognizing a healthy environment as a right, would help protect those defending against deforestation, land grabs, pollution, and poaching, and would also “significantly raise the prominence of the issue,” explained Knox.
Sometimes referred to as environmental justice, the issue of human rights and the environment are, and will remain, inextricably linked. If the UN were to recognise the right to a healthy environment, it would put significant weight behind individuals and organisations fighting to end violence and intimidation of environmental defenders. It could also bring the issue to the global public’s attention, thereby putting pressure on agribusiness to display and validate operational transparency. Could the UN declaring the right to a healthy environment lead to a world where local populations affected by agribusiness were protected in their activism and their security ensured through international scrutiny? What steps can we as members of civil society, business, and politics, take to bring this forward? Are there frameworks and tools used elsewhere such as in the FAIRTRADE certification scheme that could be applied to improve agribusiness accountability?