Shareholder Activism and Stakeholder Engagement Strategies: Promoting Environmental Justice, Human Rights, and Sustainable Development Goals

58 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2021 Last revised: 3 Sep 2023

See all articles by Erika R. George

Erika R. George

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: April 21, 2021

Abstract

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an ambitious “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” which seeks to promote peace and eradicate poverty. The Agenda’s goals cannot be reached without private sector participation and changes to certain business practices that contribute to adverse environmental and human rights impacts. When natural resources are managed responsibly the resulting economic development can help to eradicate poverty. However, when natural resources are managed poorly, certain extractives industry sector practices can generate or exacerbate human rights abuses, environmental degradation, corruption, and conflict. Fossil fuels are connected to the changing climate. The practices of the extractives industry sector and our patterns of consumption are implicated in the expected adverse social impacts and environmental injustices associated with the changing climate such as displacement and forced migration. For the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth in the Agenda for Sustainable Development to be reached by 2030, action on climate change and patterns of corruption will require pressure from the public as well as partnership with the private sector. This paper explores the role of economic actors and public/private multi-stakeholder initiatives as partners in promoting action on climate and curbing corruption to protect human rights. It plots points of convergence between the SDGs and the priorities of socially responsible investors, the efforts of human rights and transparency initiatives regulating the extractives industry sector, and global principles intended to guide responsible business conduct. It explains how certain complementary points of convergence could create opportunities for business enterprises to address environmental and social challenges through aligning business incentives with the aims of the SDGs. First, the paper will provide an analysis of selected international law, policy, and governance instruments relevant to achieving the SDGs with reference to the role of the extractive industry sector in posing risks to human rights and environmental quality. The human right to a healthy environment and the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights is also addressed. Next, the paper will present examples of increasing investor interest in environmental and social issues examining shareholder proposals put forward by institutional investors seeking information about the financial implications of these issues for firms. The paper will then offer an overview of multi-stakeholder and extractive industry initiatives that provide an institutional framework for managing corruption and conflict. Finally, the paper concludes with a call for a consideration of shared values solutions to challenges and an increased appreciation of a range of ways to advance the SDGs by creating aligned incentives for economic actors.

Keywords: sustainable development, human rights, climate change, environmental injustice, multi-stakeholder initiatives

Suggested Citation

George, Erika R., Shareholder Activism and Stakeholder Engagement Strategies: Promoting Environmental Justice, Human Rights, and Sustainable Development Goals (April 21, 2021). 36 WIILJ 298 (2019), University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 450, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3831562

Erika R. George (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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