UN binding treaty

Geneva, 9 March 2018

This week the Human Rights Council was debating the binding treaty on transnational corporations once again. It was a hopeful sign that, on this occasion, many countries showed support for the third report of the Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) [1] and called on all governments to engage in negotiations for a legally binding instrument.

It was particularly encouraging to see Namibia, Palestine, Bolivia, Mozambique, Algeria, Azerbajan expressing strong support for the mandate of the IGWG to be fulfilled. Even the European Union called for the continuation of the process [2]. Only Norway and US attacked the IGWG report, clearly stating their preference for voluntary approaches over human rights obligations and for multi-stakeholder consultation processes, in which the business sector can secure a stronger voice.

Countries were followed by the voice of civil society groups. Friends of the Earth International, representing a worldwide movement, committed to advancing the process in order to end transnational corporations’ impunity and attain justice for those suffering as a result of corporate human right violations.

Anne van Schaik, from Friends of the Earth Europe commented,

“We welcome the EU’s statement on the UN treaty. Thanks to pressure from civil society, affected people and many UN member states, the UN treaty process is very much alive and must soon ensure justice for all people whose rights have been violated by companies operating internationally.”

Alberto Villarreal from Friends of the Earth Latin America and Caribbean, also present in Geneva said,

“Now that formal negotiations on a zero draft of the treaty will start during the 4th session in October, it is encouraging to see a growing number of governments engaging constructively. It is now up to Friends of the Earth groups, social movements and ally organizations to ensure, regionally nationally and internationally, that the starting point for negotiations is the best possible text, one that takes into account the voices of affected peoples. We will keep pressing for the IGWG to fulfill its mandate (given by Resolution 26/9) within a reasonable timeframe, instead of dragging on for decades with no concrete results.”

Juliette Renaud from Friends of the Earth France commented,

“Pressured by a strong civil society mobilization and almost 250 French parliamentarians, France should continue advocating for a shift in the EU’s position. France must reinforce its commitment with concrete content proposals for an ambitious zero draft, in line with the pioneering French law on multinationals’ duty of vigilance. Northern countries, home to many transnational corporations, should be proactive in the creation of a UN treaty.”

It is essential that the treaty recognizes the primacy of human rights over trade and investment law. It was, therefore, as step in the right direction when, on 6 March, The European Court of Justice ruled that the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in bilateral investment treaties are not compatible with EU law. [3] But it was not all good news this week for strengthening human rights over trade and corporate power. Last night 11 countries signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which  further embeds the unfair Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism that enables foreign corporations to sue governments for protecting the environment.

Lucia Ortiz, Friends of the Earth International Economic Justice Resisting Neoliberalism Program coordinator, said,

“The European Court of Justice ruling confirms what citizens across the world have been saying for years: there is no place in a just world for corporate courts which supersede the public interest. Instead States should create binding rules for business, in order to protect the rights of peoples and the environment. It is time for an international court that will hold corporations operating internationally to account for human rights abuses.”

In June 2018 the Chair-Rapporteur will present the treaty zero draft for negotiation during the next session of the IGWG that will take place from 15-19 October 2018 in Geneva.

Today there is hope that corporate impunity will be consigned to history, especially for those who have, for too long, endured the injustices of transnational corporations being above the law.

For more information, please contact the Friends of the Earth International delegation in Geneva:

Anne van Schaik, Corporate accountability campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe: anne.vanschaik[at]foeeurope.org, +31 624343968

Alberto Villarreal, Friends of the Earth Latin America & Caribbean economic justice/resisting neoliberalism coordinator: comerc[at]redes.org.uy, +598 98 556360

Juliette Renaud, Corporate accountability campaigner at Friends of the Earth France: juliette.renaud[at]amisdelaterre.org, +33 6 37 65 56 40

Lucia Ortiz, Friends of the Earth International Economic Justice Resisting Neoliberalism Program Coordinator: lucia[at]foei.org, +55 48 999150071


[1] Official website of the Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/WGTransCorp/Pages/IGWGOnTNC.aspx

[2] In October 2017 at the IGWG negotiations, the EU objected to the Program of Work on the first day, by raising two additional demands, and repeating the obstructive tactics used at 1st IGWG session in 2015. Instead of a 4th session of the Intergovernmental Working Group in 2018 based on a Draft Treaty text, the EU proposed to have only consultations on the process: http://foeeurope.org/un-binding-treaty-eu-derails-311017

[3] Press release: Top EU court rules ISDS is incompatible with EU law