Climate change and human rights are inextricably linked. The right to water and sanitation, to food, to health, to adequate housing, even the right to life – all these fundamental human rights are at risk of being undermined by climate change.
And the consequences are felt acutely by the world’s most vulnerable individuals. It is children, women, the elderly and indigenous groups who are most at risk from the disease, devastation and displacement it can cause.
According to UNICEF, over half a billion children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones. Nearly 160 million live in high or extremely high drought severity zones – and these children are often the poorest.
Two years ago, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, resulting in 7,000 deaths and leaving more than 4 million people displaced. The tsunami in 2005 killed more than 225,000 people and displaced a further 1.2 million. In fact, from 2009 to 2014, approximately 27 million people have been displaced as a result of natural disasters.
As climate change forces people to move from region to region in search of work and safety, the number of migrant workers is increasing. Migrant labour is not a bad thing, in fact – it can be vital to both people and business.
However, when the vulnerable are abused many of them can fall victim to abusive working conditions including forced labour or human trafficking.
Hope for change
But there is hope for change. At Unilever, we believe the challenges of improving human development and combating climate change must go hand in hand. The cost of inaction will prove far greater than the cost of acting now.
Our Sustainable Living Plan sets out how we’re committed to reducing our impact on the environment, cutting our carbon footprint, promoting sustainable agricultural practices with our suppliers, and helping smallholder farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change. In 2014 we strengthened the Enhancing Livelihoods ambition of the USLP, part of our commitment to increase our positive social impact.
We’re working to protect the livelihoods of our women farmers too. In India, we introduced drip irrigation systems for women gherkin farmers whose farms were at risk of drought. It reduced water use by 70% and increased their yields by 84%, protecting their livelihoods and our supply.
Partnerships for meaningful action
We’re committed to embedding human rights into everything we do at Unilever. But it’s impossible to do by ourselves. That’s why we’re establishing partnerships, drawing on expertise and experience which will help us make a difference.
There can be no development, no climate justice and no progress in the way that we all want until we all agree to take meaningful action on climate change. We are humbled by the task, grateful for the opportunity and we are working hard every day to make this happen.