Friends of the Earth International, as a member of a Global Campaign and within an international Alliance, is fighting for a legally binding international tool that puts people before profits, as transnational corporations continue seeking ways to operate with impunity.

While we were encouraged by the publication of the Zero Draft of the legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and human rights in July, there is still much important work to do. The Zero Draft turned its back on three years of negotiations within the UN Intergovernmental Working Group, by throwing out crucial points that were criticized by big businesses, but supported by many governments and civil society organizations.

From 15 to 19 October, negotiations of the legally binding instrument to regulate transnational corporations will enter a new phase. All member States must be ready to enter into the talks with constructive proposals aimed at increasing the ambitions of the Treaty draft, by establishing obligations for big business to respect human rights, and preserving the Working Group mandate to elaborate the Treaty to regulate transnational corporations’ operations.

During the talks in Geneva, record numbers of civil society and social movements will gather for a Week of Mobilization. Activists from all continents will present demands based on national struggles for social and environmental justice, in the face of corporate and State violence against defenders of peoples’ rights and territories, and on environmental crimes that stem from unregulated financial investment and investor disputes against states policies and public interests.

Erika Mendes, from Friends of the Earth Mozambique, says the lack of strong legal implementation mechanisms in the Zero Draft and its Additional Protocol – such as an International Tribunal on Multinationals, Other Enterprises and Human Rights – is extremely problematic. She says:

“If the thousands of victims of corporate abuse don’t have an International Court to which they can turn to in their struggle for justice, then the Treaty will end up being a mere declaration of good intentions. The demands arising from communities affected big business of transnational character, which escape national jurisdictions, and specifically from women and rights defenders across the globe, should lay the foundations for this binding instrument – their voices con no longer be ignored.”

Friends of the Earth Africa has created a model statute that should be annexed to a future Binding Treaty to create an international tribunal. The proposal calls for a permanent court able to hold its sessions where communities have been paying a heavy price for transnational corporations’ operations that violate laws, ignore fundamental rights or operate in complicity with national governments.

Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific has produced a booklet that highlights examples of corporate crimes across Asia, and the responses from Asian governments regarding their commitment to a Treaty. Hye Lyn Kim, from KFEM-Friend of the Earth Korea, says:

“Across the Asia Pacific region, serious human rights violations have been perpetrated by transnational corporations’ global supply chains. In addition, as International Financial Institutions’ (IFIs) influence has increased through investment in massive development projects, which often lack proper impact assessments, environmental destruction and human rights violations increase. Despite international voluntary regulations, it’s hard to bring transnational corporations to justice due to the complexities in supply chains and the absence of liability for IFIs. Our member groups strongly believe that Asia Pacific states should engage in the Treaty process more actively to put an end to widespread human rights violations.”

In Europe, the growing pressure from citizens and parliamentarians confronts European Union obstructive tactics used over the past four years. Friends of the Earth Europe calls on member States to speak up for the Treaty. Juliette Renaud, from Friends of the Earth France, says:

“Whereas European citizens and the European Parliament have repeatedly expressed their support and call for a UN Binding Treaty, the European Union keeps on parroting business lobbies’ arguments against it, stubbornly defending inefficient voluntary norms. We need to protect the negotiations from this harmful corporate influence. And we call on EU member States, like France, to speak with their own voices at the UN, if they are truly committed to the process.”

In the context of the privatization of democracy, and escalating violence against activists and defenders of territories, particularly the women on the frontlines of defense of the commons. Alberto Villarreal from REDES – Friends of the Earth Uruguay says:

“With so many corporate captured governments worldwide, it will take strong coalitions of affected social movements including workers, peasants, women’s, environmental and other civil society organizations and Parliamentary networks to bring an enforceable UN Binding Treaty to the finishing line. Having the strong voice of the trade union movement speaking resolutely in support of the Treaty in Uruguay has made all the difference, and with them we have managed to move our government to stand behind a UN Treaty that sets direct human rights obligations on corporations. Democracy and the rule of law are at stake.”

Members of 30 national Friends of the Earth groups will join Friends of the Earth International, global social movements, and affected communities at the fourth session of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, in Geneva.

We are calling on all States to commit to meeting the Working Group’s mandate and to negotiate in good faith for a binding instrument that should establish direct obligations for transnational corporations. These measures should stop human rights violations along global supply chains, restate the precedence of human rights law above trade and investment agreements, guarantee the protection of defenders of territories and collective rights, include strong judicial mechanisms of implementation, and clearly respond to gender perspective demands.