Brazil’s government outlined its plans to engage with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) to develop a binding treaty on business and human rights. Three governmental bodies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the Secretary on Human Rights of the Presidency (which has ministry status) are involved in shaping Brazil’s national positions ahead of July’s meeting of the IGWG in Geneva.
The plans were discussed at a meeting with a Brazilian Civil Society coalition, called GT Corporaçõesi* , and Brazilian government representatives: the third time they have met to push for engagement in the Treaty process. At earlier meetings, government representatives claimed that their positions were not sufficiently developed. For the third meeting, the civil society coalition was even better prepared with arguments and examples to convince the government to take a strong and leading position in favour of the Treaty at the UN.
In June, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council voted for the creation of an “open-ended intergovernmental working group on a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, the mandate of which shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.”
Representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Itamaraty) declared that a week prior to meeting the coalition, they had met with the presidency (Casa Civil) and that Itamaraty was put in charge of coordinating positions and negotiations in the IGWG process for the Treaty with the mission in Geneva
Coalition members stressed the importance of avoiding corporate capture (undue influence by large corporations, often through sponsorship or even as stakeholders in the negotiation, is all too common in UN and other international spaces) and urged government representatives to focus on the scope of the treaty and the need to respond concretely on access to justice for victims of abuse by Transnational Corporations (TNCs), mentioning also examples in Brazil.
The government, for its part, said they will seek to advance on legally binding rules to “fill the gaps” in the process of implementing the Guiding Principles on business and human rights, and that they will do what they can to reach consensus and overcome the polarization witnessed in June 2014.
Brazil abstained in last year’s vote to establish an IGWG to elaborate a binding treaty for businesses and human rights.
Last year, EU nations worked hard to block the treaty, suggesting that there would be no financial support for those who vote for the treaty. Civil society members reminded the government about the concerns such behaviour by EU states causes, adding cautionary notes about building consensus with the EU. They also insisted that Brazil should strongly reject any proposals to include business as stakeholders in the elaboration of a treaty. The creation of the Guiding Principles gave ample space to TNCs to establish guidelines they could follow, but it is certainly not for businesses to decide what sanctions should be imposed on them when human rights violations are committed.
Friends of the Earth International, part of the Treaty Alliance, will send a delegation to Geneva in July 2015 to continue building support for the treaty and to lobby members of the IGWG.