Rights-based foreign policy
Report compiled by Labour International Development Network.
Ratified by Labour International CLP at GC meeting 21st February 2021
Rights based approach to international environmental and climate policy
A rights-based approach to environmental and climate policy is often – and increasingly – referred to as 'environmental justice' and 'climate justice.' This refers to the idea that the impacts of environmental harm or climate change do not fall evenly across populations – either between or within countries. Rather, the impacts are felt hardest amongst those communities and countries that are in already vulnerable or marginalised situations – groups that, paradoxically, have done least to contribute to the problems. This might include, for example, indigenous peoples in the Amazon, or low-lying Small Island States.
Human rights principles and obligations are central to the concepts of 'environmental justice' and 'climate justice.' They provide a lens through which to understand the differential impacts of ecological damage on different population groups, and help inform better policy responses, at local, national and international levels – policy responses focused on helping the most vulnerable first.
The central importance of a rights-based approach to environmental protection and climate change has been repeatedly recognised by the UN (for example, in resolutions of the Human Rights Council, in the UNFCCC Cancun Agreements and in the Paris Climate Change Agreement), and by States (though not the UK). President Biden has made environmental and climate justice central to his policy agenda at national and international levels.
Human rights-based approach to trade policy
Trade policy can lead to serious human rights violations (e.g., UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which are then used against civilians in Yemen). Trade policy, especially the bilateral trade policy (e.g., FTAs) of economic powers such as the EU, UK and US, can also be a powerful tool for good – where it is aligned with international human rights principles and obligations. A good example is the EU's common commercial policy. Nearly all FTAs signed by the EU (with some exceptions such as the recent trade deal with China) contain provisions obliging both sides to sign and ratify the international human rights treaties, relevant ILO conventions protecting labour rights, and environmental (including protecting biodiversity) and climate agreements (e.g., the Paris Agreement). At the moment, there is little evidence that the UK's new post-Brexit commercial policy is following this example. Instead, the motivations behind the UK's trade policy appear to be purely economic.
A Labour trade policy which accords a central place to international human rights principles will help reconcile competing conceptions of interests and makes it easier to embed trade in broader relationships of co-operation and understanding. It provides an important point of orientation in the essential rebuilding of our relationship with Europe.
Part 4 following. Full report attached here as pdf.