GENEVA June 27 2014: Friends of the Earth International and other social movements celebrate a great and long awaited victory that challenges corporate power and starts responding to environmental defenders demands. The time had finally come to move forward from voluntary guidelines for business on human rights to a legal framework to bring transnational corporations to justice for their human right violations.

Yesterday (June 26), the majority in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted yes to a resolution presented by Ecuador and South Africa, to start elaborating an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of Transnational Corporations (TNCs) with respect to Human Rights [1].

The resolution led by Ecuador and South Africa received affirmative votes from twenty member States on the Human Rights Council, while thirteen States abstained. The initiative to establish an international legally binding instrument has been supported by 610 organizations, 400 individuals, 95 countries, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, and the Vatican. When China and India, representing more than one third of the world’s population, expressed support for the resolution, the plenary could feel the sense of victory in the last minutes of the morning in yesterday’s twenty sixth session of the UNHRC.

Jagoda Munic, Chair of Friends of the Earth International said: “ This is indeed a significant and historic victory; a much needed resolution for those who defend the environment, human rights and sustainable livelihoods from the violations of big business. It shows movement building can really change the power balance and expose US and EU commitments to the corporate agenda”.

The US and EU were not only fiercely and strongly opposing the proposal, but also actively bullying other countries to side with them, threatening them with financial and development aid losses. After threats of supposed “negative financial impacts” related to the proposal led by Ecuador and South Africa, the US said that “this legally binding instrument will not be binding for those who vote against it”, exposing its lack of political will to commit to binding obligations for big business to address environmental and social injustices and its disrespect for democratic processes.

“According to the EU States and Norway, the longer we speak about the need for a binding treaty, the more companies are discouraged from taking voluntary action. We believe the opposite: although both proposals are complementary, the longer we delay a binding treaty, the longer companies will continue to act with impunity, and the more environmental defenders’ rights are abused”, said Anne Van Schaik Accountable Finance Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe.

For Lucia Ortiz, Friends of the Earth’s Economic Justice Program coordinator, “It is a big success for the movements and us with our allies who have worked for a long time towards an international legally binding treaty to bring corporates to justice and to curtail their freedom to act with impunity”, referring to a new lease of hope for those in the struggles against free trade and investment agreements that benefit transnational corporations with no binding obligations to control them under international law.

Friends of the Earth International was part of this historic achievement. It has worked with the Treaty Alliance (2) on advocacy work in Geneva and in the most important capitals in the EU, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil and others. On the Week of Mobilization organized by Swiss NGOs and the Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power (3), Friends of the Earth groups from Europe, Nigeria, Uruguay, Palestine, Guatemala, Brazil and the Real World Radio presented cases at the special session of the Peoples Permanent Tribunal (4), side events and street protests, denouncing human right abuses by TNCs such as Shell, Mekorot, Hidralia, Philip Morris and FIFA.

Environmental defenders deserve and demand a legally binding treaty to bring corporations to justice. But they also demand community access to justice, right to protest, reparation and restoration of damaged environmental and livelihoods, and criminal liability for corporate offenders (5).

“We can now proudly say that the world from now on may be a better place for our children to live. Though there is no doubt they will also have to fight to secure this victory, as much as we will have to fight together with movements and states to implement the resolution in creating an international legally binding agreement from now onwards” said Alberto Villarreal Friends of the Earth Uruguay trade and investment campaigner.

CONTACTS IN GENEVA:

Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International: +385 98 17 95 690 (Croatian mobile) or jagoda@zelena-akcija.hr

Lucia Ortiz, Economic Justice International Program Coordinator, Friends of the Earth International: +41 79 42 94 275 (Swiss mobile) or lucia@natbrasil.org.br

Or

In Brussels: Paul de Clerck, Coordinator Economic Justice Program, Friends of the Earth Europe +32 494 38 09 59 or paul@milieudefensie.nl

In Uruguay: Alberto Villarreal, Friends of the Earth Uruguay trade and investment campaigner: +598 98 556360 or comerc@redes.org.uy

Pictures Gallery

https://picasaweb.google.com/vbarro/MobilizationWeekUNHRCGeneva2014?authuser=0&feat=directlin

NOTES

  1. The resolution is online at http://ap.ohchr.org/Documents/E/HRC/d_res_dec/A_HRC_26_L22_rev1.doc
  2. For more information please read http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/eu-aims-to-scuttle-treaty-on-human-rights-abuses/
  3. For more information on the Treaty Alliance please visit www.treatymovement.com and on the global Campaign Dismantle Corporate Power: www.stopcorporateimpunity.org
  4. More information about the Geneva session of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal: http://www.realworldradio.fm/7715-desmantelando-la-arquitectura-de
  5. Friends of the Earth International recorded more than 100 incidents of violence against environmental rights defenders and violations of their rights in 27 countries around the world in the period November 2011 – October 2013, according to the report.For more information about the new report by Friends of the Earth International “We defend the environment, we defend human rights“ launched this week on a side event at UNHRC: https://www.foei.org/press/archive-by-subject/economic-justice-resisting-neoliberalism-press/un-treaty-urgently-needed-for-human-rights-defenders-says-new-report/