The seed of a new Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights is planted
Friends of the Earth International commends the rapidly increasing support, interest and mobilisation evident in Geneva this week (24-28 October 2016), during talks aimed at establishing a new and unprecedented treaty on TNCs and human rights 
The creation of a set of international binding rules will have profound implications for the world’s largest companies, obliging them to respect human rights in a way they have never had to before .
“This Treaty was always meant to be about binding rules to finally rein in the behaviour of transnational companies and their supply chains. The fact that so many countries—led by South Africa and Ecuador—voiced their unequivocal support for legally binding rules, sets exactly the right tone for an ambitious and far-reaching negotiation,” said Lucía Ortiz, from Friends of the Earth Brazil and co-coordinator of Friends of the Earth International’s Economic Justice-Resisting Neoliberalism programme.
FoEI was pleased to see an increasing number of countries—including the EU and member states—participating in a positive and constructive exchange of views together with civil society organisations, lawyers and others. FoEI members have been calling on their national governments to engage in this important process, which could provide a historic opportunity for justice and an end to corporate impunity.
Anne van Schaik, from Friends of the Earth Europe said, “We are content to see the EU and some member states finally in the room—in response to the demands of 90,000 European citizens who called on them to step up to the task of creating a Treaty that puts human rights before corporate interests.
“However,” she continued, “we were hoping that they would participate more actively in the debate, and would be more prepared, but at least they came. Now they need to focus on collaborating with civil society and affected people around the world, to start crafting the concrete elements needed for a strong and effective Treaty.”
The Treaty would also provide a sharp and much needed counterpoint to the continued promotion of increasingly controversial ‘free’ trade and investment agreements, which promote the rights of transnational corporations at the expense of peoples and the environment, and even allow them to sue countries directly in secret courts .
This week’s talks in Geneva were also notable for a strong and growing civil society mobilisation,  with many formally invited inputs from affected communities around the world: cases of human rights abuses by companies such as Shell, Vale, and Jindal Africa were presented to governments. Members of FoEI’s global network formally contributed ten detailed presentations and interventions .
“More than a hundred activists from 29 countries were present at this session in Geneva—the movement for a binding treaty that puts human rights above corporate profits is snowballing. Civil society strength was felt outside in public activities, and inside where strong interventions and proposals on content were made. We also stood together in solidarity with the Brazilian people challenging the current illegitimate government in Brazil.” Lucia Ortiz added.
Friends of the Earth International looks forward to the next stage in this pivotal process, when Ecuador, the Chair, will begin a process for formal negotiations. We hope that there will be even broader engagement by all governments in the UN—especially with more countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean—who stand to benefit from a mechanism that will increase their ability to control the activities of transnational companies, especially where the threats and criminalisation of social leaders defending their rights and territories from corporate grabs has led to unprecedented levels of violence.
It is also important to continue to resist business’ attempts to capture the process and weaken ambitions, including by restricting corporations’ participation in negotiations due to conflicts of interest.
The seed has been planted this week: we now need to grow and nurture this Treaty, to give it the strength—rules and effective implementation mechanisms—to constrain and control big business, and to deter and punish human rights abuses by the world’s largest companies.
Further information and contacts:
Lucía Ortiz, Co-coordinator, FoEI Economic Justice-Resisting Neoliberalism Programme
+55 48 99150071, lucia[at]foei.org
Languages: Portuguese, English and Spanish
Anne van Schaik, Economic Justice International Programme Coordinator, Friends of the Earth Europe
+31 6 24343968, anne.vanschaik[at]foeeurope.org
Languages: Dutch, English and Spanish
Khalisah Khalid, Head of campaign and network department, Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI
+62813 11187 498, sangperempuan[at]gmail.com
Languages: Bahasa Indonesia and English
Alberto Villarreal, Trade and Investment Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Latin America & Caribbean
+598 98556360, comerc[at]redes.org.uy
Languages: Spanish, English
Ronnie Hall, media contact, ronnihall[at]gmail.com +44 7967 017281
More information: www.foei.org/what-we-do/UN-treaty-on-TNCs
Images from IGWG sessions on TNCs
Notes to the editor
 There is currently a gap in the international legal architecture that means transnational companies cannot be prosecuted directly for human rights abuses. This is the subject of discussions in the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on Transnational Corporations and other Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights, which met for the second time in Geneva this week. For more information see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/WGTransCorp/Pages/Session2.aspx
 For a wide range of related information materials including newsfeed, background and policy-focused documents, and videos, please see: https://www.foei.org/what-we-do/UN-treaty-on-TNCs. For FoEI’s formal submission to the second session of IGWG, which addresses the scope and potential content of the Treaty, including a focus on TNCs and supply chains, access to justice and remedy for victims, and a call for a World Court on TNCs and Human Rights, see: https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/UN-Treaty-TNCs-submission-English.pdf
 For example, in Europe—including because of widespread public concern about these secret tribunals that benefit corporate interests—negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have ground to a halt (for more information see: http://www.euractiv.com/section/trade-society/news/germany-says-ttip-dead-in-the-water/); similar negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU have also faltered at the ratification stage (for more detail see: http://www.foeeurope.org/Belgium-CETA-deal-challenges-corporate-courts-in-trade-deals).
 FoEI is an active participant in the Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power and the broad Treaty Alliance of civil society organisations
 The following FoEI participants made formal inputs to the second session of IGWG, and can be contacted at any time for further information:
Lucia Ortiz, Friends of the Earth International: opening statement in relation to Friends of the Earth International expectations for the week
Ricardo Navarro, Friends of the Earth El Salvador/CESTA: Overview of systematic violations of Human Rights and environmental crimes by TNCs – Examples from Central America
Juliette Renaud, Friends of the Earth France/Amis de la Terre: Examples of national legislation – the case of the French law of “devoir de vigilance”
Apollin Koagne Zouapet, Friends of the Earth Cameroun/CED: The need for the future Treaty to include extraterritorial obligations for states to fulfil concerning the protection of victims, environmental activists, human rights activists and whistleblowers.
Khalisah Khalid, Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI: The need for the future Treaty to cover the entire supply chain of TNCs as well as their financiers – the case of Wilmar and Bumitama in Indonesia
Syeda Rizwana Hassan, Friends of the Earth Bangladesh/BELA: Case study – the impunity of the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh
Godwin Ojo, Friends of the Earth Nigeria/ERA: Difficulties faced in litigating against TNCs – the example of Shell in Nigeria
Anne van Schaik, Friends of the Earth Europe: Panel presentation on the scope of the future Treaty
Arturo Pablo Juan, Friends of the Earth Guatemala/CEIBA: Existing gaps in remedies and access to justice – the case of Hidralia in Guatemala
Gizela Zunguze, Friends of the Earth Mozambique/JA!: the lack of access to justice – the examples of Vale and Jindal in Mozambique
Friends of the Earth International is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 75 national member groups and some 2 million members and supporters around the world. We challenge the current model of economic and corporate globalisation, and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies.
main image © Victor Barro/Friends of the Earth International