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State of health 

WorldGBC carried out an analysis of the United Nations (UN)’s ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’1 specifically for the buildings and construction industry that identifies the following fundamentally important areas for maintaining human rights within the building lifecycle:

  • Worker rights and freedoms, mitigation of risks of forced labour and modern slavery

  • Land and housing security, and property ownership

  • Free choice, and favourable and secure working conditions with fair remuneration

  • Gender equality, including equality in pay

  • Right to adequate housing, and decent standard of living

  • Free participation in the cultural life of community, and duties to the community for all

The UN ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’2 outlines the state’s duty to protect human rights and the responsibility of corporate enterprise to respect human rights. Companies in the built environment sector should undertake human rights due diligence measures to ensure their operations respect human rights and do not contribute to human rights abuses3.

Guidance around human rights of direct relevance for built environment practitioners is centred around three themes:

  • Employment rights and quality for construction workers and those in supply chain (specific physical and mental health risks presented in detail in Principle 5.2)

  • Rights and quality for building occupants – encompassing standards and adequacy of building design and consequential standard of living, including physical health and wellbeing factors, and engagement and duties within and to community

  • Rights of local communities (see Principle 5.3)

Employment rights and quality for supply chain and construction workers:

It has long been recognised that there is, within the built environment industry, a considerable variation of practices and standards relating to social sustainability and maintaining human rights standards. This includes those manufacturing raw materials, often in dangerous, exploitative and highly polluting environments, and those working on construction sites. Additionally, the reports of lack of diversity in the workforce, and minimal representation of those from marginalised communities are common4. In many countries, a high proportion of construction workers are migrant workers, who are at heightened risk of exploitation.

Rights and quality for building occupants

Quality standards should be met for all building types, however, the right to adequate housing is a particular social consideration with direct impact on occupant health and wellbeing. The right to adequate housing includes criteria such as security of tenure, affordability, habitability, and accessibility, as defined fully by UN Habitat5.


The ethical management of human rights relating to the construction industry and built environment should be considered and enhanced at each stage of the building lifecycle. Strategies should be incorporated by all relevant stakeholders in the value chain, with emphasis on both employment rights and quality for supply chain and construction workers, and rights and quality of buildings for the occupants.

Strategies across the lifecycle


  • Social and demographic equity should be sought amongst design team, construction workers and those involved across the lifecycle of the building or development (applies to all stages)

  • Implement standards meeting rights and quality standards for building occupant, encompassing adequacy of building design and consequential standard of living, including the universal right to adequate housing

  • Inclusion of human rights and labour provisions in tendering for project and supplier contracts


  • When migrant workforces are employed, ensure that worker accommodation is adequate

  • Thorough human rights due diligence process on supply chain risks, also termed Human Rights Impact Assessment and Supply Chain Mapping (covering materials, suppliers, contractors, transportation)

    • Human rights due diligence involves four steps: assessing actual and potential human rights impacts (considering all ways a company is or could be involved) integrating and acting on the findings, tracking responses, and communicating about how impacts are addressed

    • A company should seek to obtain as complete a picture as possible of its suppliers as part of the impact assessment. Where it is infeasible to conduct due diligence across the entire supply chain, companies should prioritise first the areas of the supply chain where the risks of adverse human rights impacts are most significant

  • Mandatory requirements of good practice within supply chain: awareness sessions and site maintenance and inspections, and adherence to International Labour Organization (ILO) fundamental conventions7

    • These cover human rights topics including child and forced labour, freedom of association, discrimination, and equal pay

  • Educate workers and supply chain actors on their rights and benefits. Share success stories to raise awareness and demonstrate the impacts of these proposed commitments


  • Social and demographic equity of all suppliers and maintenance

  • Fair management of private owned public space


State of health 

The people involved in a building most extensively across its lifecycle are those working in and around the building during the construction (and deconstruction) phase(s), and those living and working in and around the building once operational. However, the construction workforce is often overlooked regarding the impact of the building and surroundings on their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

The construction industry employs approximately 7% of the global work force and it is predicted to account for approximately 13% of GDP by 20208. It is a well-known issue within the industry that business operation includes a broad spectrum of practices and standards relating both to social sustainability and the maintenance of human rights standards. WorldGBC aspires for an industry evolution centred around responsible construction practices, which are managed in an environmentally and socially considerate, responsible, and accountable manner9.

Physical and mental health and wellbeing of construction workers is a topic about which there is growing awareness worldwide. Research reveals that construction workers have a high risk of developing diseases from a number of health issues. In the United Kingdom, construction has the largest burden of occupational cancer amongst the industrial sectors. It accounts for over 40% of occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations10. Exposure to hazardous substances, such as asbestos or silica dust, is a recognised cause of the heightened risk of lung and other cancers, as well as broader respiratory and cardiovascular health issues11.

In addition to physical health, mental wellbeing is now recognised as a major risk for construction workers. The suicide rate for male labourers is three times higher than the average male suicide rate for the UK12, and in Australia a construction worker commits suicide every second day, on average13. Some 20% of all cases of ill health in the sector are due to work-related stress, depression, and anxiety, and consequently over 400,000 working days are lost each year14.

Construction is a heavy manual industry where working into later life can be a challenge15. A sustainable building and construction industry must be supportive of an ageing global population, creating safe and healthy work environments ensuring that practitioners are offered both professional security and personal safety.


Health-focused construction principles implemented, and practices standardised, particularly minimising worker exposure to hazardous materials, chemicals, and carcinogenic substances.

Strategies across the lifecycle


  • Adherence to specific responsible construction practices and programmes, such as Considerate Constructors Scheme

  • Adherence to ILO standards on worker rights, covering freedom of association, elimination of forced labour and child labour, and non-discrimination

  • Implement specific health and safety practices to eliminate worker exposure to hazardous materials, chemicals, and carcinogenic substances

  • Increase employee and staff awareness of occupational health risks and mitigation

  • Extend employee assistance programmes, occupational health checks and other initiatives to suppliers/smaller contractors

  • Education programmes for construction workers, both in improving literacy skills (targeting construction workers in certain geographies who have worked since childhood), and also in construction health and safety (including dangers of the industry, the benefits of implementing good industrial practices and environmentally responsible practices)

    • Education programs should be continuous to ensure awareness of evolving low or zero carbon technologies and sustainability practices

  • Main contractors should undertake effective due diligence on any agency they engage with, and have a duty of care to ensure that workers working via third parties are employed according to international standards, are not subject to exploitation and are protected in the workplace including their health and safety, and mental wellbeing


State of health 

Health and wellbeing in the built environment have for too long focused primarily on the occupants of a building. Although the built environment has a remarkable impact on the health, wellbeing, productivity, and other factors relating to an occupant, its wider and less tangible impacts on those who live in the surrounding area must also be considered.

There can be a benefit to the local economy and associated social impacts from operational buildings and construction. This may include a positive multiplier effect to local businesses, enhancement of neighbourhoods (gentrification), provision of employment and development of community facilities. However, negative social impact is often created or overlooked through development, and can include community segregation, loss of culture and even an increase in crime. During construction, retrofit or deconstruction phases, the physical issues created by development, such as air, noise, light pollution, must also be considered and mitigated.

Social value, justice, and fairness

The inequality in the distribution of income and quality of life affects countries of all levels of wealth and development. Our built environments, our societies, communities, and cities, are where inequality in health, wellbeing and quality of life can be most apparent. The trend of urbanisation, with greater than two-thirds of people expected to live in cities by 2050, is expected to add an additional 2.5 billion people to the existing urban populations16. Larger urban populations will increase pressure on existing systems on infrastructure, including provision of adequate housing and services, access to resources and societal, system and environmental resilience. In societies struggling with population pressures, the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of marginalised communities or vulnerable groups must be recognised as a risk. The buildings and infrastructure of our cities can contribute to these problems or they can provide solutions17.

Social resilience:

Social equity and fairness must extend to ensuring equality in being resilient to challenges for all people. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the particular difficulties and disadvantaged outcomes the built environment can trigger or enhance. Some of the many examples worldwide include the disproportionate death tolls in informal housing settlements, such as favelas in Brazil18, the racial disparity in death toll that are closely linked to social determinants of health19, and limited access to healthcare facilities which is considered a contributory factor to heightened death tolls of indigenous people and other marginalised communities20.


The health and wellbeing of all people impacted by a building in operation should be considered, and consciously enhanced where possible, incorporating environmental, social and economic indicators of health. The creation of positive social impact should be universal, with principles of equity and fairness underpinning design and operational decisions that would impact local community. Resilience-focused design and master-planning of cities, communities and built environment should also be sought.

Strategies across the lifecycle


  • Ensure non-discrimination at all stages

  • Consider physical and environmental impacts on the local area, with active input from the local community: take steps to mitigate harm, and expand positive impacts such as the provision of resources and infrastructure for the local community, safety and security of surroundings, and design for a healthy community such as expanding sidewalks and improving walkability

  • Plan for community participation accounting for demographics of neighbouring area; include grounding the project in a strong understanding of local social and economic context and ensure meaningful participation of the local community from the outset, to mitigate risks of harm and to identify positive outcomes

  • Community engagement programmes ensuring access to information for local community members throughout the course of the project, including public engagement at phase one design, community impact assessment, social value impact assessments or equivalents


  • Mitigate air pollution, noise pollution, traffic, congestion, waste and other pollutions created on-site and in surrounding areas


  • Implement organisational level strategies to support local people and economy, e.g. no on-site food provision to encourage expenditure in local business, supporting community causes (e.g. charities, schools, hospitals, investment in public transport facilities) demonstrated through corporate social impact reporting


1 United Nations. 1948. ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’: declaration-human-rights/

2 United Nations. 2011. ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’:…

3 Human Rights Watch. 2016. ‘Human Rights in Supply Chains’:… diligence

4 Building Green. ‘Re-forming the Building Industry: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’:…

5 UN-Habitat. ‘The Right to Adequate Housing’: 

6 United Nations Global Compact. ‘A structured process to prioritize supply chain human rights risks’:… g_Group%2FSupply_Chain_GPN.pdf

7 International Labour Organization. ‘Labour Standards. Fundamental Conventions’:… recommendations/lang–en/index.htm

8 OECD Insights. 2016. ‘The Global Construction Sector Needs a Big Push on Corporate  Responsibility’:…

9 BREEAM 2014, ‘Man 03 Responsible construction practices’:…

10 Health and Safety Executive. ‘Construction health risks: Key points’: 

11 Health and Safety Executive. ‘Cancer and Construction: Silica’:…

12 Association for Project Safety. ‘Health and Wellbeing in Construction Factsheet’: 

13 Mates. ‘Why Mates Exists: The Problem’:

14 Work in Mind. 2019. ‘The Mental Health Crisis in Construction: How to Safeguard Wellbeing’:…

15 Eaves, S. at el. 2016. ‘Building Healthy Construction Workers: Their Views on Health, Wellbeing  and Better Workplace Design’. Applied Ergonomics: 

16 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2018. ‘68% of the World Population  Projected to Live in Urban Areas by 2050, Says UN’:… prospects.html#:~:text=68%25%20of%20the%20world%20population%20projected%20to%20live%2 0in,areas%20by%202050%2C%20says%20UN&text=Today%2C%2055%25%20of%20the%20world’ s,increase%20to%2068%25%20by%202050.

17 UK Green Building Council. 2018. ‘Social Value in New Development’: content/uploads/2018/03/Social-Value.pdf

18 Reuters. 2020. ‘Imported by The rich, Coronavirus Now Devastating Brazil’s Poor’:… now-devastating-brazils-poor-idUSKBN22D549

19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. ‘Health Equity Considerations and Racial and  Ethnic Minority Groups’: ethnicity.html

20 World Economic Forum. 2020. ‘This is How COVID-19 is Affecting Indigenous People’:… people/

The resource lists for each sub-principle are a non-exhaustive set of references provided from the WorldGBC network, peer review panel and industry through the Framework consultation period. A regular update of resource lists will be undertaken by WorldGBC to ensure updated information is available.

WorldGBC supports all certifications and is proud to unite a network that runs over 40 rating tools, plus support the uptake of all tools across the industry. Rating scheme inclusion within the Framework is based on submission from global GBC network and consultation responses, with aim of amalgamating a host of resources for a global audience to offer further detail for users beyond the high-level outline of each principle.

Regarding specific certifications, eg. BEAM or Green Star, there are often a number of versions or tools available for different building types (eg. Design, As-Built, Interiors, Communities). To maintain brevity of Framework document, one building level tool (eg. Design or New Construction) and one larger scale tool (eg. community level) is included within the Resource List of each sub-principle. Users with alternative building projects in mind are encouraged to acquire the appropriate version of the tool for most applicable guidance.