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What is the role of companies and businesses in ensuring that the human right to WASH is fulfilled?

This is a question I asked Leo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to WASH when he came to do a talk at the WaterAid office. Like it or not, global companies are powerful actors with a role to play, and I was interested to hear Leo's thoughts on this

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There is of course a lot to be said on this subject, and various people have done interesting and useful work in defining the responsibilities of companies and businesses generally with respect to human rights, as well as specifically the human rights to water and sanitation.

For general information please see Ruggie's Guiding Principles - they are useful for setting the scene on the responsibilities of businesses in realising human rights. Unfortunately they don't say much about water:

Specifically for water and sanitation, the CEO Water Mandate has produced guidelines for companies:

Obviously the main responsibility for businesses that use a lot of water is good water resource management, to prevent overuse of shared water resource, to prevent pollution of water resources etc. Also to provide adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities within the workplace - and here you could look at the WASH Pledge led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development:

It is amazing how few companies do provide these essential services, or even allow people to use them when they do exist... You could look at the Legislation section of Catarina's Handbook for ideas on WASH in the workplace - - but it would be great if WaterAid also pushed this issue with the corporates you work with!

One area that businesses sometimes like to get involved in from a CSR point of view is to bring water and sanitation services in the local areas where they live. This is not their responsibility, and where they do get involved in this, they must ensure that they are not violating human rights, must follow the human rights principles of participation, access to information, accountability (by working closely also with local government etc.) and non-discrimination and equality. Also obviously fulfilling the content of the right - accessibility, affordability etc. Just providing a substandard service to feel good is not realising human rights, and may actually be in violation of the rights.

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