The Responsibility of ESG Investors to Respect Human Rights and Prevent ‘Rightswashing’

The Responsibility of ESG Investors to Respect Human Rights and Prevent ‘Rightswashing’

The Responsibility of ESG Investors to Respect Human Rights and Prevent ‘Rightswashing’ 1600 1067 Ines

As global environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments surge, a critical oversight persists: the inadequate consideration of human rights. A recent report from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights highlights this gap, urging investors to prioritize people and the planet in their decision-making processes. With global ESG assets expected to surpass $40 trillion by 2030, accounting for more than a quarter of all assets under management, the need for comprehensive and ethical investment strategies is more pressing than ever.

Understanding ESG and Sustainable Investments

ESG and sustainable investment strategies have garnered significant attention due to their potential to positively impact society and the environment. While these approaches are often used interchangeably, they both emphasize the importance of incorporating ethical considerations into investment decisions. However, the expectation that ESG and sustainability investments inherently include human rights considerations is not always met.

The Importance of Human Rights in ESG Investments

Respecting human rights is a fundamental responsibility for all businesses, including those in the financial sector. This principle is enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), adopted by the UN in 2011. The UNGPs outline the duty of businesses to respect human rights and have been incorporated into international, regional, and national legislation, such as the recent European Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive.

Despite these frameworks, there remains a significant gap in the implementation of human rights considerations within ESG investments. Investors often focus on environmental and governance aspects while neglecting the social dimension, which includes human rights. This oversight can lead to ‘rightswashing,’ where companies and investors superficially claim to uphold human rights without implementing genuine measures to protect them.

Steps to Prevent ‘Rightswashing’ and Promote Human Rights

To bridge this gap, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights suggests several steps that investors and policymakers can take:

  1. Integrate Human Rights into ESG Criteria: Investors should ensure that human rights considerations are integrated into their ESG criteria and investment decisions. This includes conducting thorough due diligence to identify, assess, and address potential human rights risks.

  2. Engage with Stakeholders: Investors should actively engage with stakeholders, including affected communities, workers, and human rights organizations, to understand the human rights impacts of their investments and address any concerns.

  3. Monitor and Report on Human Rights Performance: Investors should implement robust monitoring and reporting mechanisms to track the human rights performance of their investments. Transparent reporting helps to hold businesses accountable and provides valuable information for stakeholders.

  4. Support Policy and Regulatory Initiatives: Investors should support policy and regulatory initiatives that promote human rights in business practices. This includes advocating for stronger human rights standards and regulations at the international, regional, and national levels.

  5. Promote Education and Awareness: Investors should promote education and awareness about the importance of human rights in ESG investments within the financial sector. Training programs and workshops can help investors and financial professionals understand and implement human rights considerations effectively.


As ESG investments continue to grow, it is crucial for investors to prioritize human rights and prevent ‘rightswashing.’ By integrating human rights into their investment criteria, engaging with stakeholders, monitoring performance, supporting regulatory initiatives, and promoting education, investors can ensure that their investments contribute positively to society and the environment. Respecting human rights is not only a moral obligation but also a strategic imperative for sustainable and responsible investing

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