Virginia is the Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque.
1. You have been working on the Handbook for realizing the rights to water and sanitation , which compiles findings and recommendations from the mandate of Catarina de Albuquerque as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (HRWS).
In which ways do you believe the Pledge for access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at the workplace can contribute to the realization of the HRWS?
While often we talk about access to water and sanitation at home, and this is what the UNICEF / WHO Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) monitors for the MDGs, it cannot be underestimated how important it is for economic development generally, and specifically for women, to have access to these services at the workplace. While many countries will have regulations that govern WASH at the workplace, these are seldom monitored. This Pledge will help to raise awareness of the importance of the issue, and hopefully have a significant impact on access levels.
Overall, I are very pleased to see the business community also stepping up to the plate and committing resources to making this right a reality.
2. What are the main obstacles preventing the full realization of the HRWS? How can businesses contribute to overcoming them?
One of the main obstacles is simply recognizing the importance of WASH services for any country's development, and then acting on that to ensure access for all, including those who are disadvantaged or marginalized. Businesses, particularly those employing people for lower-paid work, can ensure that the health and dignity of men and women is protected also at the workplace. So through this Pledge, businesses are recognizing the importance of water and sanitation for their workforce, and for women, adequate access to facilities that allow menstrual hygiene management.
3. What incentives can be provided by States and local authorities to ensure that businesses respect human rights, including the HRWS?
Obviously one important step would be for States to use their regulatory frameworks or codes of employment to ensure that businesses respect human rights - including the rights to water and sanitation through the provision of adequate facilities, but also other requirements, such as number of hours worked, unfair dismissal etc. These are not so much incentives as legal requirements. But perhaps there are other ideas that could be explored, such as Awards or Seals of good practice, that a business earns and can use to promote their business as human rights compliant. Financial incentives can also be thought of, for example in terms of tax-breaks or reductions in the tariff paid for water used by staff for personal hygiene.
4. Are you aware of any other practical business engagements in implementing the HRWS at global scale?
As far as I am aware, this Pledge is the only one that is working to ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation at the workplace, but of course water is a key aspect of most businesses, and securing a safe and reliable water resource is crucial. This has led to extensive discussion about priorities, between business and community needs, particularly in those cases where businesses have not taken sufficient (or any) notice of local requirements in negotiating access to water resources. This is being addressed by some businesses, and this is an issue that the CEO Water Mandate is concerned about. However, I think that there is a long way to go in ensuring that domestic uses of water are prioritized over other uses.
5. In your opinion, what shall be the next steps for businesses, once access to safe WASH at the workplace has been achieved?
Well, as suggested above - I think that there is a long way to go before all businesses behave responsibly with respect to water use. But ultimately I don't believe it is the responsibility of businesses to resolve this challenge alone - governments have to be a lot more proactive in protecting the people living within their jurisdiction. I hope that the rights to water and sanitation can also help to clarify some of these issues, in legal as well as in practical terms.