Grassroots Voices Being Heard at UN Negotiations on Treaty for Business and Human Rights

As negotiations begin at the UN in Geneva, for a legally-binding international treaty to hold transnational corporations accountable for the numerous human rights abuses they perpetrate, FI and other partner organisations are organising ways for affected communities to have their perspectives taken into consideration.

Today, a UN debate sponsored by FI, CIDSE, FIAN International, The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and Friends of the Earth, featured six panelists from the grassroots who each presented the kinds of corporate abuses they’ve witnessed; from murder and rape to communities being displaced without notice; from water contamination to serious health issues, these human rights defenders told stories of how their communities have suffered from transnational companies’ activity without ever having any kind of access to justice or remedy. Their accounts continually highlighted the power of such companies over states and their judicial systems. “I have spent 10 years and all my economic resources,” admitted Yasmine Motarjemi, former Assistant Vice President in charge of food safety at a large transnational company, “but I have not gotten any justice.”

The need for a legally-binding treaty is undeniable; hearing from those directly affected made that obvious. But panelists challenged us to think further: how can we ensure that the Treaty is implemented and well-monitored? How can we address the asymmetry in power between corporations and States? How can profit, and the current development discourse be challenged, so that corporate culture itself changes?

The representative from CIDSE, speaking from the audience, encouraged all to make sure these concerns were taken into consideration in the official negotiations that were starting up again in the main hall at the close of the debate. Tomorrow, a second debate will take place at the UN in parallel to the treaty negotiations: grassroots representatives from different social movements will have the opportunity to give their perspective on the impact of transnational corporations. FI looks forward to continue hearing from and amplifiying the voices of those directly affected by transnational companies, to influence the current intergovernmental working group negotiations, in view of a robust and relevant treaty on business and human rights.