The first session of UN negotiations on legally binding rules for transnational corporations (TNCs) concluded on July 10th, with hopes high for the process towards a treaty that could finally bring justice and protection to millions.
Talks convened in Geneva on July 6th to begin elaborating a treaty on business and human rights. Civil society organizations from all over the world took part, demonstrating coordinated work, a wealth of proposals and thorough analyses of the urgent need for an international legally binding instrument to prevent TNCs’ human rights abuses and provide justice and remedy for affected people.
Preparatory work of civil society at national and international level was strong. Movements from Indonesia and Brazil, for example, combined proposals for the treaty built on the voices of affected peoples, on concrete cases of human rights violations by TNCs and on advocacy work to push national governments to engage in a proactive way.
TNCs are often responsible for human rights violations. These crimes frequently go unpunished due to glaring gaps in the international legal system, the absence or weakness of enforceable national policies, or judicial corruption in TNC host and/ or home countries. Many corporations are also richer and more powerful than the states seeking to regulate them. Corporate campaign financing for political candidates also creates a layer of impunity for TNCs.
“UN member States and expert panelists made great progress tackling this difficult but vital work. We also applaud the formidable mobilization of civil society organizations, whose presence really spurred the talks forward,” said Lucia Ortiz, Economic Justice International Program Coordinator, Friends of the Earth International.
The EU and several other, mostly rich, countries were largely absent from the talks, allegedly claiming that negotiation of a legally binding treaty would distract from the implementation of the existing UN Guiding Principles (a set of voluntary guidelines for businesses).
“The growing abundance of human rights abuses perpetrated by TNCs or on their behalf proves voluntary guidelines are absolutely insufficient and TNCs should not be trusted to police themselves,” said Anne van Schaik, Sustainable Finance Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe. “Many EU countries are home to TNCs with deplorable records of systemic rights violations in the global south. European civil society organizations have joined forces with great strength to defend rules for business and rights for peoples, making The EU governments’ lack of interest in pushing corporations to respect rights even more shameful.”
“For decades social movements have been demanding a legally binding treaty and insisting corporate influence of the UN must end. Yet even last year many people still believed that a treaty like the one the UN is now working towards would be impossible,” said Irhash Ahmady of Friends of the Earth Indonesia, “but this week has demonstrated the political will exists, the experts believe it is possible, and many States and people are prepared to make it happen.”
“Most of the States came to the talks open minded and feeling brave enough to finally advance a devastatingly neglected area of international law,” said Ricardo Navarro, Director of Friends of the Earth El Salvador. “This bravery will be crucial ahead of the next round of talks. States and civil society must work hard to keep up momentum, bring even more States to the table, and consult widely. Affected people, whose struggles in the face of TNC violations, expertise and proposals must be part of this consultation, so we can truly condemn impunity to history!” he added.