As stakeholders continue with the fourth informal negotiations on a UN treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises in relation to human rights at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, activists continue to call on the European Union to start supporting the process.
Civil society support for a legally binding treaty to regulate transnational corporations is growing, particularly in the Global South. According to activists, rather than engaging with the United Nations treaty negotiations, the European Union is delaying and derailing the process. Activists are punching holes in the EU’s claim that it is committed to protecting human rights and those that defend them, when it is attempting to shut down this historical process.
Position of Friends of the Earth International
According to Friends of the Earth International, the key elements to make the new legally binding instrument effective include obligations for transnational corporations to respect human rights, corporate liability in case of violations, transparency in supply chains to pierce the corporate veil that allows companies to avoid responsibility, and an international human rights court that affected people can turn to if their national courts fail to provide access to justice.
“Organizations and social movements around the world are demanding justice and an end to the impunity of transnational corporations that are responsible for the systematic violation of peoples’ rights. We are calling for the adoption of a legally binding Treaty that establishes direct legal responsibility for transnational corporations and their managers throughout the production chain. We can only guarantee access to justice for those affected with an effective implementation mechanism. The Treaty must prioritize human rights over free trade agreements and investments”, Ms. Karin Nansen, the chair of Friends of the Earth International explained during a press conference at the UN Square in Geneva Switzerland.
Friends of the Earth International argue that the Zero Draft must establish the primacy of human rights over trade agreements, provide paths for reparations for affected communities, and protect defenders of territories from future abuses which they contend require regulations to prevent international financial institutions from acting with impunity when financing destructive projects or supporting policies that undermine people’s rights to public services.
In 2015 a United Nations intergovernmental working group began work on a treaty to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
Calls for a legal mechanism to prevent corporate human rights abuses and attacks on democratically-elected governments have been repeated since Salvador Allende’s remarkable 1972 speech to the UN General Assembly. Corporate crimes against the environment and peoples' rights have continued unabated since then, while violence against defenders of territories and collective rights have reached alarming levels and activists believe companies are rarely held to account.
Many countries have been developing concrete proposals regarding the content and implementation of a binding treaty to close gaps in international human rights law and improve affected peoples' access to justice. This includes national legislation within European states establishing legal obligations for transnational corporations to prevent human rights abuses and environmental damages along their whole supply chains.
Suspicious conduct of EU
EU representatives failed to show up to opening negotiations at the UN in 2015, and only engaged in 2016 and 2017 after pressure from civil society organizations. During the most recent informal consultations, in May and June, the EU continued to show what activists say was an impediment to the negotiations by calling for a new resolution to reduce the working group's mandate. The activist argue that if the EU’s demand is heeded to, it would mean the reversal of four years of progress, and give the EU a chance to change the scope of the treaty, or water it down to a mere amendment of the voluntary Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
“All the voluntary mechanisms in the world will not secure the lives of defenders of territories from systemic threats and attacks by corporations on the environment, livelihoods, and people’s rights. It would be an historical failure for universal human rights law if, after more than 45 years of fighting for accountability of transnational corporations, the UN working group, with Ecuador as chair supported by more than 100 UN member states, yielded to the EU’s obstructive tactics”, read a statement on the Friends of the Earth International website.
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) is an international network of environmental organizations in 74 countries. FoEI currently has a secretariat based in Amsterdam, Netherlands which provides support for the network and its agreed major campaigns
Compiled by Julius Kyamanywa