UN Member States must not walk away from treaty on business and human rights

If we truly want to protect human dignity and our planet, we need a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations. Sign up for our special newsletter to get involved in our efforts at the UN.

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As the power of corporations has grown, so should their responsibility towards human rights and our planet. Yet the reality is that around the world, harms to people’s rights through business activities continue to take place with impunity. This is why in 2014 the UN Human Rights Council kicked off a process to establish a treaty to regulate transnational corporations under international human rights law. A report on the latest round of negotiations of such as treaty among States who have gathered in a dedicated working group will be considered on 16 March.

As the Human Rights Council considers the report, an international civil society coalition is standing up against attempts to undermine this crucial process. Looking ahead to the next round of negotiations in October, we call on you to support our efforts to do so in the next months. If we truly want to protect human dignity and our planet, we need a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations.

Several powerful States – primarily those headquartering large corporations – have so far refused to engage constructively with this process. They are now trying to impose their view on other States. In doing so, they are ignoring the progress made during the last seven years and the dire need for action that reality calls for.

Most of these States have pointed to existing alternatives such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as being sufficient. Yet time and again, these voluntary frameworks have proven inadequate to prevent or remedy human rights abuses by companies.

In the past years, Franciscans International has worked to bring attention to the situation of victims seeking justice in mining-related cases such as Brumadinho (Brazil), Arica (Chile), Marinduque (the Philippines), and Kabwe (Zambia), where a combination of corporate negligence and weak government oversight have caused long-lasting and devastating harm.

In countries including Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Franciscans and their partners have stood up as access to water and other human rights are threatened by large scale industrial projects. In most cases, companies have been allowed to evade full accountability for their wrongdoing by using different legal loopholes. Meanwhile, the damage they caused is likely to be felt for generations. 

Oftentimes, human rights violations already occur during the early stages of extractive projects, with communities kept in the dark about the full impacts and risks and cut out of the supposed benefits. This is why “free, prior, and informed consent” is one of the key issues covered in our recent fact-sheets on human rights and Indigenous People. It is also why FI is working closely with several human rights experts at the UN on this issue, for example by contributing to the development of the “megaproject cycle” by the former Special Rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation, which helps communities navigate these processes.

Yet the simple fact is that all these efforts can only have a limited impact without an overarching UN treaty. Since 2014, Franciscans International has thus supported the negotiations by both providing technical support and by bringing representatives of affected communities to the UN so they can share their testimonies. Nevertheless, seven years later we find ourselves at a crossroads.

The next session of the UN working group in charge of the negotiations in October 2022 will likely be a critical moment for this process. This fight for corporate accountability has been, and will continue to be, a collective effort. If you want to be a part of this struggle, we invite you to sign up for our special mailing list so we can keep you informed about new development and let you know what action you can take when the time comes!

 

Photo Credit: © Gustave Deghilage