The Special Rapporteur was an active participant in this evocative subject. Businesses have a strong duty to respect and protect people’s human rights. It is recognised that there is a balance between provision of safely managed services (and fulfilment of human rights), environmental protection and providing sustainable long-term solutions.
There is a business case for compliance with human rights, not only from a legal standpoint, but also in the effort to build human rights standards into local policy and monitoring, such that compliant businesses have an advantage. It then becomes a business need, a marketing benefit, and a route to expansion with the support of government and socially acceptable investment capital.
Gabriella Casanova presented the Human Right 2 Water checklist tool for small businesses on how to include human rights to water and sanitation. We invited operators from the sector to share their challenges and good practices from four countries: Philippines, Nepal, India and Bangladesh, and sector leaders from water and sanitation businesses provided their thoughts.
According to Mr Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, there are two areas of concern. Most of the 2.2 billion people without water are drinking from polluted rivers, so the cost effective and sustainable solution is to recover the health of the rivers first. This was endorsed by Srija Santosh, from Eram Scientific Solutions in India, who referred to the 1.7 million tonnes of faecal waste that gets dumped into Indian rivers every day.
Secondly, the Special Rapporteur noted that States have an obligation to protect human rights, but that insufficient priority is being given to directing public and private funds towards local communities and the most marginalised. He called it “Democratic Water Governance”.
Neil Dhot from AquaFed stated that we don’t have time to wait for governments to act. We need to see action now. Businesses are trying the best they can to make a difference while the debate with the government goes on, and we need short term solutions in the meantime.
Prakash Amatya, from Aerosan in Nepal gave a very compelling story about the women that are hired to do work in sanitation, and how badly they have been treated in the past. It is through work from private social enterprises like his, that women have been lifted out of poverty, providing improved lifestyle not only for the workers and their families, but also for other women in the community that haven’t access to dignified and safe toilet and hygiene facilities.
Cristelle Alejandro, Vice President at Balibago Waterworks in the Philippines, agreed that this segment of society are highly discriminated against, and that “we all need empowerment”. Business tools such as this checklist that can support businesses to take action on their own are incredibly important. Coming from a professional environment, she found this tool very useful and has already promoted its use in her own company.
Farhana Rashid, founder of a sanitation company in Bangladesh called Bhumijo, explained how it is “impossible for small private companies like hers to look after all the most impoverished people without the support of local authorities to make it possible”.
Alex Knezovich, Executive Director of the Toilet Board Coalition was able to represent the views of many of their members when she said that “ governments need to engage with the private sector and utilities to create a more enabling framework. Alongside this, a skills-building approach, with tools such as this checklist, is essential to support the human rights to water and sanitation”.
Pedro ended by saying that Water and sanitation are a cornerstone of public health – we need states to make financing a priority for local communities. We must be ambitious in the fight against corruption, and against non-compliance with human right obligations of the States and private sectors. Good practices should always be known and supported. “Community based approaches are essential. Democratic water governance – it’s the best way to go forward in the short term”.