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Human Rights and Impact Assessment

Type:   Research publications
Topic:   Human rights
Date submitted:   24/05/2013
Member:   Frank Vanclay

Special issue on human rights and impact assessment of the journal, Impact Assessment & Project Appraisal 31(2) June 2013 published and now available online at:

(Free for IAIA members)

The special issue was guest edited by Dr Deanna Kemp (University of Queensland) and Prof Frank Vanclay (University of Groningen) and was an initiative of the corporate stewardship and risk management section of the International Association for Impact Assessment.

Guest editorial reads:

This issue of Impact Assessment & Project Appraisal is a special issue on the topic of ‘Human Rights and Impact Assessment’. Human rights is a rapidly developing field of knowledge and practice, especially since the appointment in 2005 of Professor John Ruggie as the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary-General on business and human rights. The subsequent endorsement by the United Nations of the ‘Guiding Principles on Business on Human Rights’ in 2011 is having a significant effect on what companies do, are expected to do, and what issues they will seek to manage. The rise of a field of ‘human rights impact assessment’ (HRIA), and the considerable overlap between human rights issues and social and environmental issues will necessarily and inevitably influence the family of impact assessment.

There are a range of issues to consider in terms of how human rights and impact assessment interact in practice. A significant consideration is that human rights has standing
in international law. In many contexts, this may provide HRIAs with greater authority than social and environmental impact assessments. Aside from legal standing, a ‘business and human rights’ lens also begins to influence the way environmental and social issues are perceived. No longer are negative effects merely impacts; they potentially become corporate human rights abuses. Project affected peoples are not only stakeholders, they are also
rights-holders. To add further complexity, the scope of what is considered a human right is expanding – such as the right to consultation, the right to water, and the right to food. Finally, is not clear that all things previously addressed in impact assessments will be included in a
human rights perspective. How these and other issues will be addressed are some of the questions that human rights specialists and the impact assessment fraternity need to
carefully consider. These are some of the issues considered in this special issue.

The eight papers in this special issue:

  • provide background information about business and human rights, and about recent developments in impact assessment practice (especially Kemp & Vanclay);
  • discuss specific important concepts relating to human rights, including ‘due diligence’ (Graetz & Franks; Harrison), and ‘free, prior and informed consent’ (Hanna &Vanclay);
  • address specific topics of interest, including gender and sexual orientation (Sauer & Podhora), Indigenous peoples (Hanna &Vanclay), and water issues (Collins &Woodley);
  • discuss the rise of the field of human rights impact assessment (Boele & Crispin; Harrison; Watson et al.); and
  • discuss specific cases of human rights assessment (especially Watson et al.).

While the papers provide a useful primer for people in the field of impact assessment, we stress that this is a rapidly developing field of practice, and that current and future developments may lead to changes in how human rights are perceived and enacted, and indeed how they relate to impact assessment. Nonetheless, the suite of papers in this special issue offers an early contribution to knowledge for impact assessment practitioners interested in engaging in these debates and considering implications for practice.


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