UN treaty teaser

Last week in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council, a treaty for transnational corporations and human rights was once more on the agenda. Although there was just a presentation of the report of the second session of the Intergovernmental working group (IGWG), it was an important step towards the third session of negotiations, due to take place in October 2017, when delegates will discuss a first draft of the treaty.

As expressed by many states and civil society organizations, the report presented on 9 March by the IGWG Chair Maria Fernanda Espinosa from Ecuador reflects rich proposals from states, civil society, affected communities, academics, UN experts and other actors over the last two years, aimed at creating a set of international binding rules for the world’s largest companies, obliging them to respect human rights.

Representatives of Friends of the Earth International were in Geneva once more to share the concerns and demands of civil society. Days after the first anniversary of Berta Cáceres’ murder they gave a timely reminder to states that urgent action is needed around the criminalization of and violence perpetrated against human rights and environmental defenders protecting their rights and territories from corporate grabs.

“Systematic violations of economic, social and cultural rights of many communities that are deprived of their lands and resources useful for their livelihoods are made possible because of the involvement, or with the support, of many investors and companies who have no binding obligations to respect human rights under international law.“

Apollin Koagne Zouapet, senior lawyer, CED/Friends of the Earth Cameroon

“Effective protection of human rights and environmental defenders cannot be achieved if the responsibility of one of the main perpetrators of such violations is evaded. An international tribunal and effective mechanisms of sanctions for transnational corporations are needed to prevent big companies hiding behind investment protection agreements and the legal personality of their subsidiaries to continue behaving with impunity.”

Juliette Renaud, Corporate accountability campaigner, Friends of the Earth France

It was encouraging to hear support for the Treaty process from many developing countries, especially by Tunis on behalf of African region, followed by welcoming interventions of Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa. Unlike last year, the EU thanked the IGWG Chair for the report on its written statement. The Treaty process is now speeding up.

“We cannot rely on voluntary measures alone, as these fail to hold corporations to account. Promising developments are now taking place in Europe, such as the French law on duty of care and the Dutch child labour due diligence law. We hope these examples will help build support for the UN treaty. But we see big business resisting any attempt at binding regulation. It is therefore essential that we protect the discussions on the Treaty from corporate capture.”

Anne Van Schaik, Finance Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe.

2017 should see stronger mobilization of all sectors pushing for solid negotiations at the IGWG on drafting the elements and structure of this new UN binding Treaty. Friends of the Earth International, with member groups in 75 countries, is committed to supporting environmental and human rights defenders around the world, who desperately need protection of their rights, access to justice and the ability to hold transnational companies accountable.

Image © Victor Barro