Human Rights and the Environment – Summary

The history, culture, traditional activities and livelihoods of Inuit are intimately connected with the environment and wildlife. In general, there is uncertainty and concern about the Arctic environment as a result of climate change. There is also uncertainty about the potential impacts of the Mary River project on the environment and wildlife, mainly related to the proposed railway and all-year shipping from Steensby Inlet. From a human rights perspective, one of the most important issues for Baffinland relates to providing information about, and opportunities for participation in, the environmental monitoring programmes for the Mary River mine. Current initiatives to develop a multi-stakeholder Environmental Monitoring Committee should be supported.



Human Rights Assessment

7. Human Rights and the Environment – Full Finding

Key message

The history, culture, traditional activities and livelihoods of Inuit are intimately connected with the environment and wildlife. In general, there is uncertainty and concern about the Arctic environment as a result of climate change. There is also uncertainty about the potential impacts of the Mary River project on the environment and wildlife, mainly related to the proposed railway and all-year shipping from Steensby Inlet. From a human rights perspective, one of the most important issues for Baffinland relates to providing information about, and opportunities for participation in, the environmental monitoring programmes for the Mary River mine. Current initiatives to develop a multi-stakeholder Environmental Monitoring Committee should be supported.


International standards related to the environment

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25(1): Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 12:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: (b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; (c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases; (d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

ILO Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention C174; and, ILO Tripartite Declaration of principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, Articles 57 and 58.


OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises

General Policies:

1. Contribute to economic, environmental and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development.

5. Refrain from seeking or accepting exemptions not contemplated in the statutory or regulatory framework related to human rights, environmental, health, safety, labour, taxation, financial incentives, or other issues.

10. Carry out risk-based due diligence, for example by incorporating it into their enterprise risk management systems, to identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential adverse impacts as described in paragraphs 11 and 12, and account for how these impacts are addressed. The nature and extent of due diligence depend on the circumstances of a particular situation.

VI. Environment

Enterprises should, within the framework of laws, regulations and administrative practices in the countries in which they operate, and in consideration of relevant international agreements, principles, objectives, and standards, take due account of the need to protect the environment, public health and safety, and generally to conduct their activities in a manner contributing to the wider goal of sustainable development. In particular, enterprises should:

1. Establish and maintain a system of environmental management appropriate to the enterprise, including:

a) collection and evaluation of adequate and timely information regarding the environmental, health, and safety impacts of their activities;

b) establishment of measurable objectives and, where appropriate, targets for improved environmental performance and resource utilisation, including periodically reviewing the continuing relevance of these objectives; where appropriate, targets should be consistent with relevant national policies and international environmental commitments; and

c) regular monitoring and verification of progress toward environmental, health, and safety objectives or targets.

2. Taking into account concerns about cost, business confidentiality, and the protection of intellectual property rights:

a) provide the public and workers with adequate, measureable and verifiable (where applicable) and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise, which could include reporting on progress in improving environmental performance; and

b) engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.

3. Assess, and address in decision-making, the foreseeable environmental, health, and safety-related impacts associated with the processes, goods and services of the enterprise over their full life cycle with a view to avoiding or, when unavoidable, mitigating them. Where these proposed activities may have significant environmental, health, or safety impacts, and where they are subject to a decision of a competent authority, prepare an appropriate environmental impact assessment.

4. Consistent with the scientific and technical understanding of the risks, where there are threats of serious damage to the environment, taking also into account human health and safety, not use the lack of full scientific certainty as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent or minimise such damage.

5. Maintain contingency plans for preventing, mitigating, and controlling serious environmental and health damage from their operations, including accidents and emergencies; and mechanisms for immediate reporting to the competent authorities.

6. Continually seek to improve corporate environmental performance, at the level of the enterprise and, where appropriate, of its supply chain, by encouraging such activities as:
a) adoption of technologies and operating procedures in all parts of the enterprise that reflect standards concerning environmental performance in the best performing part of the enterprise;

b) development and provision of products or services that have no undue environmental impacts; are safe in their intended use; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; are efficient in their consumption of energy and natural resources; can be reused, recycled, or disposed of safely;

c) promoting higher levels of awareness among customers of the environmental implications of using the products and services of the enterprise, including, by providing accurate information on their products (for example, on greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, resource efficiency, or other environmental issues); and

d) exploring and assessing ways of improving the environmental performance of the enterprise over the longer term, for instance by developing strategies for emission reduction, efficient resource utilisation and recycling, substitution or reduction of use of toxic substances, or strategies on biodiversity.

7. Provide adequate education and training to workers in environmental health and safety matters, including the handling of hazardous materials and the prevention of environmental accidents, as well as more general environmental management areas, such as environmental impact assessment procedures, public relations, and environmental technologies.

8. Contribute to the development of environmentally meaningful and economically efficient public policy, for example, by means of partnerships or initiatives that will enhance environmental awareness and protection.

Commentary on the Environment

60. The text of the Environment Chapter broadly reflects the principles and objectives contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, in Agenda 21 (within the Rio Declaration). It also takes into account the (Aarhus) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and reflects standards contained in such instruments as the ISO Standard on Environmental Management Systems.

61. Sound environmental management is an important part of sustainable development, and is increasingly being seen as both a business responsibility and a business opportunity. Multinational enterprises have a role to play in both respects. Managers of these enterprises should therefore give appropriate attention to environmental issues within their business strategies. Improving environmental performance requires a commitment to a systematic approach and to continual improvement of the system. An environmental management system provides the internal framework necessary to control an enterprise’s environmental impacts and to integrate environmental considerations into business operations. Having such a system in place should help to assure shareholders, employees and the community that the enterprise is actively working to protect the environment from the impacts of its activities.

62. In addition to improving environmental performance, instituting an environmental management system can provide economic benefits to companies through reduced operating and insurance costs, improved energy and resource conservation, reduced compliance and liability charges, improved access to capital and skills, improved customer satisfaction, and improved community and public relations.

63. In the context of these Guidelines, “sound environmental management” should be interpreted in its broadest sense, embodying activities aimed at controlling both direct and indirect environmental impacts of enterprise activities over the long-term, and involving both pollution control and resource management elements.

64. In most enterprises, an internal control system is needed to manage the enterprise’s activities. The environmental part of this system may include such elements as targets for improved performance and regular monitoring of progress towards these targets.

65. Information about the activities of enterprises and about their relationships with sub-contractors and their suppliers, and associated environmental impacts is an important vehicle for building confidence with the public. This vehicle is most effective when information is provided in a transparent manner and when it encourages active consultation with stakeholders such as employees, customers, suppliers, contractors, local communities and with the public-at-large so as to promote a climate of long-term trust and understanding on environmental issues of mutual interest. Reporting and communication are particularly appropriate where scarce or at risk environmental assets are at stake either in a regional, national or international context; reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative provide useful references.

66. In providing accurate information on their products, enterprises have several options such as voluntary labelling or certification schemes. In using these instruments enterprises should take due account of their social and economic effects on developing countries and of existing internationally recognised standards.

67. Normal business activity can involve the ex ante assessment of the potential environmental impacts associated with the enterprise’ s activities. Enterprises often carry out appropriate environmental impact assessments, even if they are not required by law. Environmental assessments made by the enterprise may contain a broad and forward- looking view of the potential impacts of an enterprise’s activities and of activities of sub-contractors and suppliers, addressing relevant impacts and examining alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or redress adverse impacts. The Guidelines also recognise that multinational enterprises have certain responsibilities in other parts of the product life cycle.

68. Several instruments already adopted by countries adhering to the Guidelines, including Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, enunciate a “precautionary approach”. None of these instruments is explicitly addressed to enterprises, although enterprise contributions are implicit in all of them.

69. The basic premise of the Guidelines is that enterprises should act as soon as possible, and in a proactive way, to avoid, for instance, serious or irreversible environmental damages resulting from their activities. However, the fact that the Guidelines are addressed to enterprises means that no existing instrument is completely adequate for expressing this recommendation. The Guidelines therefore draw upon, but do not completely mirror, any existing instrument.

70. The Guidelines are not intended to reinterpret any existing instruments or to create new commitments or precedents on the part of governments – they are intended only to recommend how the precautionary approach should be implemented at the level of enterprises. Given the early stage of this process, it is recognised that some flexibility is needed in its application, based on the specific context in which it is carried out. It is also recognised that governments determine the basic framework in this field, and have the responsibility to consult periodically with stakeholders on the most appropriate ways forward.

71. The Guidelines also encourage enterprises to work to raise the level of environmental performance in all parts of their operations, even where this may not be formally required by existing practice in the countries in which they operate. In this regard, enterprises should take due account of their social and economic effects on developing countries.

72. For example, multinational enterprises often have access to existing and innovative technologies or operating procedures which could, if applied, help raise environmental performance overall. Multinational enterprises are frequently regarded as leaders in their respective fields, so the potential for a “demonstration effect” on other enterprises should not be overlooked. Ensuring that the environment of the countries in which multinational enterprises operate also benefit from available and innovative technologies and practices, is an important way of building support for international investment activities more generally.

73. Enterprises have an important role to play in the training and education of their employees with regard to environmental matters. They are encouraged to discharge this responsibility in as broad a manner as possible, especially in areas directly related to human health and safety.

UN Global Compact

Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges.

What is the precautionary approach?

Introducing the precautionary approach, Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”.

Precaution involves the systematic application of risk assessment (hazard identification, hazard characterization, appraisal of exposure and risk characterization), risk management and risk communication. When there is reasonable suspicion of harm and decision-makers need to apply precaution, they have to consider the degree of uncertainty that appears from scientific evaluation. Deciding on the "acceptable" level of risk involves not only scientific-technological evaluation and economic cost-benefit analysis, but also political considerations such as acceptability to the public. From a public policy view, precaution is applied as long as scientific information is incomplete or inconclusive and the associated risk is still considered too high to be imposed on society. The level of risk considered typically relates to standards of environment, health and safety.

Principle 8: Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.

What is environmental responsibility?

In Chapter 30 of Agenda 21, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit spelled out the role of business and industry in the sustainable development agenda as: "Business and industry should increase self regulation, guided by appropriate codes, charters and initiatives integrated into all elements of business planning and decision-making, and fostering openness and dialogue with employees and the public."

The relevant principle in the Rio Declaration says we have the responsibility to ensure that activities on our own yard should not cause harm to the environment of our neighbours. Society also expects business to be good neighbours. Business gains its legitimacy through meeting the needs of society, and increasingly society is expressing a clear need for more environmentally sustainable practices.

Canadian Legal Standards

In Canada, the federal government, as well as provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments, share responsibility for protecting the environment -- an approach that calls for close collaboration as governments work to support the well-being of Canadians.

The cornerstone of the Government of Canada's environmental legislation, Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, is aimed at preventing pollution and protecting the environment and human health.

One of CEPA 1999's major thrusts is the prevention and management of risks posed by harmful substances. As well, CEPA 1999 provides for the assessment and/or management of the environmental and human health impacts of new and existing substances. This includes products of biotechnology, marine pollution, disposal at sea, vehicle, engine and equipment emissions, fuels, hazardous wastes, environmental emergencies and other sources of pollution.

Work carried out under CEPA 1999 is complemented by other federal Acts administered (fully or partially) by the Minister of the Environment for example, the Fisheries Act, the Canada Water Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Canada Wildlife Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

CEPA 1999 Guiding Principles establish the fundamental approach to environmental protection under law, and including the following: Sustainable development, Pollution prevention, Virtual elimination, Ecosystem approach, Precautionary principle, intergovernmental cooperation, Polluter-pays principle, and Science-based decision making.

Mining Association of Canada, “Towards Sustainable Mining”

In addition to its Protocol on Health and Safety, the MAC has developed the following Protocols that are relevant to environmental protection.

• Crisis Management

MAC's Public Affairs Committee has developed performance indicators for crisis management planning to help companies leverage best practices and critically assess business performance. MAC has established three key performance indicators for this protocol: crisis management preparedness, review, and training.

• Energy and GHG Emissions Management

This protocol enables MAC members to evaluate their energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions management against TSM performance indicators. The resulting assessments help member companies develop capacity to monitor and improve performance as well as provide a basis for company assurance.

• Tailings Management (N.B. Not applicable at Mary River as there is not anticipated to be tailings)

MAC protocol for tailings management consists of five performance indicators: management policy and commitment; management system development; assigned accountability and responsibility; annual management review; and an operation, maintenance and surveillance (OMS) manual.

• Biodiversity Conservation Management

There are three performance indicators against which MAC members can measure their biodiversity and conservation management. They are: corporate biodiversity conservation policy, accountability and communications; facility-level biodiversity conservation planning and implementation; and biodiversity conservation reporting.

ArcelorMittal Environmental Policy

Our environmental policy

The group-wide policy applies to every aspect of our operations and is based on the following principles:

1. Implementation of environmental management systems including ISO 14001 certification for all production facilities;

2. Compliance with all relevant environmental laws and regulations, and other company commitments;

3. Continuous improvement in environmental performance, taking advantage of systematic monitoring and aiming at pollution prevention;

4. Development, improvement and application of low-impact, environmental production methods that make use of locally available raw materials;

5. Development and manufacture of environmentally-friendly products, focusing on their use and subsequent recycling;

6. Efficient use of natural resources, energy and land;

7. Management and reduction, where technically and economically feasible, of the CO2 footprint of steel production;

8. Employee commitment and responsibility in environmental performance;

9. Supplier and contractor awareness and respect for ArcelorMittal’s environmental policy;

10. Open communication and dialogue with all stakeholders affected by ArcelorMittal’s operations.

Environmental Policy:

Baffinland sustainability policy


• We employ a balance of the best scientific and traditional Inuit knowledge to safeguard the environment.

• We apply the principles of pollution prevention and continuous improvement to minimize ecosystem impacts, and facilitate biodiversity conservation.

• We continuously seek to use energy, raw materials and natural resources more efficiently and effectively. We strive to develop pioneering new processes and more sustainable practices.

• We understand the importance of closure planning. We ensure that an effective closure strategy is in place at all stages of project development and that progressive reclamation is undertaken as early as possible to reduce potential long-term environmental and community impacts.

Concluding observations about the environment

In the public hearings for the Mary River project, many of the concerns of Inuit related to the environment. At the same time, the different actors including the company, different government departments and the QIA have been taking these concerns very seriously in the environmental and socio-economic impact review process overseen by the NIRB.

There are some human rights related to the environment:

• There are potential impacts on the right to food related to the potential effects of mining operations on wildlife, which is the main source of the “country food” and traditional diet of Inuit. The concerns about wildlife also have implications for Inuit rights to traditional livelihoods and occupations. The ability of Inuit to practice their traditional occupations is closely tied to other rights related to the maintenance of Inuit cultures, languages and traditional knowledge, and their right to self-determination. The greatest risks to wildlife are related to the proposed railway and all-year shipping from Steensby Inlet. Because of the Early Revenue Phase, there are several more years for the different actors to complete baseline studies and design mitigation measures to prevent adverse impacts on wildlife and respect the related human rights.

• There are potential impacts on the right to health related to the interaction of the mining operations. Because the Mary River mine is in a remote location far away from the nearest communities, and the mine does not require any chemical processing, the risks to the right to health for community members are relatively small. The health risks of employees are part of the discussion of labour rights.

• There are also potential long-term impacts on the environment related to the closure of the mine. Because the Mary River mine does not involve chemical processing and the accumulation of tailings, there are less environmental risks for closure than for other types of mines. Furthermore, closure is many years away and the time frame for closure may be extended if other ore deposits are developed. The company’s plans include a 4-year closure period with a commitment to post-closure monitoring for as long as is required. There are also important conditions in the mine’s certificate related to closure. The involvement of Inuit in closure planning and post-closure monitoring provides an important opportunity to respect human rights related to the environment.

From a human rights perspective, one of the most important issues for Baffinland relates to providing information about, and opportunities for participation in, the environmental monitoring programmes for the Mary River mine. Baffinland has made commitments to train and hire Inuit for various jobs related to environmental monitoring in its operations. The QIA is advancing a proposal for an Environmental Monitoring Group that will involve Inuit and other actors. These initiatives should be encouraged and supported as mechanisms to respect human rights related to the environment, as well as Inuit rights to on-going consultation and information about the Mary River project.

Additional Information and Resources

• ICMM Position Paper on Climate Change

• Good Practice Guidance for Mining and Biodiversity:

• Water Management in Mining: A Selection of Case Studies:

• Guidance Paper: Financial Assurance for Mine Closure and Reclamation:

• Planning for Integrated Mine Closure: Toolkit: