A United Nations special rapporteur has published two reports on human rights in the area of hazardous substances. One report deals with the stages of the plastics cycle and their impacts on human rights, and the report focuses on the right to science in the context of toxic substances.
Marcos Orellana, United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Implications of the Environmentally Sound Management and Disposal of Hazardous Substances and Waste, Writes Global Plastics Crisis Reveals how each stage of the plastics cycle, including extraction and refining, production, transportation, use and waste. has negative effects on the full enjoyment of human rights. The report (A / 76/207) includes recommendations aimed at tackling the negative consequences of the plastics cycle on human rights and integrating a human rights-based approach in the transition to a circular economy. chemically safe. The report argues that toxic chemical additives in plastics represent one of the biggest constraints for plastics to join the chemical-free circular economy.
The report also discusses the impacts on people in vulnerable situations, including:
- workers in the petrochemical and plastics manufacturing industries and waste pickers;
- children who, when exposed to hazardous substances in the plastic cycle, experience a violation of their rights to life, health, physical integrity and a non-toxic environment;
- women, who are politically under-represented in decision-making processes;
- people of African descent, who experience proximity to a higher concentration of hazardous waste facilities, contaminated sites and landfills;
- indigenous peoples, whose lands are contaminated by the exploitation of fossil fuels, which constitute the bulk of plastic raw materials;
- coastal communities inundated with marine plastic litter;
- people living in poverty, who often reside near chemical industries and are the recipients of the global flow of plastic waste; and
- future generations, whose ability to enjoy their human rights and a healthy environment is threatened.
The report explains that the international instruments relating to the plastics cycle, notably the Basel Convention, the Stockholm Convention and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, do not address several challenges: reducing the volumes of production and plastic waste; controlling dangerous additives in plastics; promote a chemically safe circular economy; or the protection of human rights.
Regarding the SDGs, the publication notes that SDG 14 (life underwater) establishes an index for the density of plastic debris; SDG 6 (potable water and sanitation), target 6.3, addresses pollution reduction, spill elimination and minimization of releases of chemicals and hazardous materials; and SDG 12 (sustainable production and consumption), including target 12.4, addresses the environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes throughout their life cycle.
The Special Rapporteur’s report provides recommendations to states, businesses and relevant international agreements and mechanisms, including that states adopt a human rights-based approach to plastics management and negotiate a new legally binding international instrument on plastics. It also calls for the phasing out of subsidies and export credits and guarantees for fossil fuel extraction, plastic production facilities, and plastic-to-energy projects. Companies could direct research and development towards the development of safe and circular, non-single-use delivery methods.
The Special Rapporteur has also prepared a report on the right to science in the context of toxic substances (A / HRC / 48/61). It addresses: the right to science in international human rights instruments; the use of science to inform toxic substances policy through the use of the best available science, the precautionary principle and effective science-policy interface (SPI) platforms; and threats to the right to science in the context of toxic substances.
The Special Rapporteur recommends that States, among others: create structures and procedures that engage scientific bodies and independent scientists to inform policy decisions, legislative developments and regulations concerning hazardous substances; ensure proper evaluation of chemicals and the disclosure of scientific information to the public, before products are allowed to be placed on the market; protect scientists against pressure to act contrary to their scientific responsibilities and against possible intimidation or reprisals; and establish appropriate penalties for companies that deny regulators studies and scientific evidence.
The Special Rapporteur recommends that business enterprises conduct human rights due diligence processes to identify and address any negative human rights impact of their activities, and develop and implement strong and effective protections for whistleblowers and human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur recommends that international bodies and mechanisms in the field of chemicals and waste management consider following the model of avoidance of conflicts of interest established by the Intergovernmental Panel on the Evolution of climate (IPCC). [OHCHR webpage on Special Rapporteur]