Geneva, 22nd March 2022 – Disappointment in the Global Campaign at the presentation of the report at the UN on the latest developments on the Binding Treaty on Transnationals and Human Rights.
On March 16, 2022, at the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Ambassador of Ecuador at the UN, as Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and Human Rights (OEIGWG), presented the report of the 7th session of the OEIGWG, which took place in October 2021. This historic process at the UN, known as the Binding Treaty, aims to create binding human rights standards for TNCs.
The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (the Global Campaign), which represents hundreds of millions of people affected by TNCs worldwide, made several interventions in the debate after the presentation of the report.
The Global Campaign noted that the Chair-Rapporteur, in his intervention, neglected to mention how the negotiations will continue and how to address the future challenges of this historic process. In particular, the Chairman did not provide information on the concept and role of the “Group of Friends of the Chair”, which was announced at the end of the 7th session of the OEIGWG, in October 2021. This new body, composed by representatives of some States, could have considerable influence in upcoming important decisions regarding the content of the future instrument, which will therefore have considerable implications for the next steps of the process. On this point, the Global Campaign published an open letter to the Chair-Rapporteur, claiming the need to maintain transparency and plurality in the process. It can be read here.
Another point of concern for the Global Campaign was the centrality of voluntary standards in the Ecuadorian Ambassador’s speech. It should be remembered that the process in question was designed precisely to fill the gaps in order to address the ineffectiveness of voluntary frameworks, through the development of a legally binding international framework on TNCs and human rights. This space is therefore not the place to discuss and promote voluntary standards. In the opinion of the Global Campaign, this reflects a desire to give importance and relevance to voluntary standards, following the strategy of certain States that are detractors of the process, whose objective is to undermine the debate on binding standards. These maneuvers are to the detriment of the mandate of Resolution 26/9 and, consequently, of the democratic character of the process.
The Global Campaign has worked over the past eight years for the binding treaty to take into account the perspective of the affected communities, social movements, trade unions and other civil society organizations. In doing so, it opposed any attempt of corporate economic interests, with the support of the powerful States, to undermine the process and limit civil society participation.
An additional concern for the Global Campaign has been the limit to the number of civil society interventions imposed by the Human Rights Council. It is worth remembering the great challenge that it has always been for the movements to participate in these spaces, either because of the high costs of attending in person, or because of the lack of interpretation in the informal consultations, and also because of the differences in time zones. For this reason, we strongly protest and reject the fact that the Human Rights Council decided to further limit the voice of civil society in the General Debates.
Recalling that the objective of the Binding Treaty is to fill the gaps in international law and regulate TNCs, Erika Mendes for Justiça Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, put in her statement: “We need a clear scope of application on TNCs with an explicit mention of their global value chains, to ensure that all subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers are covered by the future instrument. The complex and opaque structures of TNCs are one of the pillars of their impunity, and take advantage of the fact that the different legal entities that are part of their chains are registered in different countries, with very unequal levels of legal protection of human rights and the environment.”
Manoela Roland of the Centro de Direitos Humanos e Empresas (HOMA-Universidade de Juiz Fora), speaking for ABIA, stressed the importance of “reaffirming the primacy of international human rights law over any other international legal instruments and, in particular, over trade and investment agreements”, as well as “to establish direct obligations for TNCs, which could be easily created by transforming some existing provisions on prevention, for instance, of article 6 (Prevention); the obligations of TNCs are different and separate from States’ obligations, and the need to include them was highlighted in each negotiation session by some states and many legal experts”.
During the debate, Lilián Galán, Member of Parliament of Uruguay and representative of the Global Inter-Parliamentary Network (GIN), which brings together more than 300 parliamentary representatives from all over the world, speaking on behalf of Transnational Institute, stressed: “In October 2021, the seventh session of the Working Group created by Resolution 26/9 (OEIGWG), reaffirmed that the process of elaborating a binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights is still ongoing. As a parliamentarian from the Global South and a member of the GIN, I am aware of the continuing and persistent efforts of some States (mainly from the global North) and organizations representing corporate interests to dilute the scope of the Treaty. It is urgent that the fourth draft of the treaty being prepared is strong, and responsive to the demands of affected communities and sectors.”
Mary Ann Bayang, of Indigenous People’s Rights International, spoke about the expectations of affected communities regarding the future treaty: “With weak or absent national legal framework to protect our rights, we look up to this international legally binding instrument to allow us to sue TNC’s in the countries where their main offices are located, for actions committed in their whole value chains; to establish an international court focused on human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of business operations; and to ensure that these redress mechanisms are accessible to all especially the marginalized and vulnerable sectors of our societies. We in the Global South are in dire need of a legally binding instrument to regulate TNCs.”
In light of the above, the Global Campaign reaffirms its commitment to continue actively in this process, defending the mandate of the resolution so that the International Treaty effectively advances binding norms to establish accountability for TNCs and ending the asymmetries of power that exist between transnational corporations, the majority of States and mainly with the affected communities.
As a reminder, the Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, Dismantle Transnational Power and End Impunity (the Global Campaign) represents hundreds of millions of people affected by transnational corporations around the world.
Julia Fernandes, Global Campaign Coordinator, Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sol Trumbo, Campaign Communications Group, Transnational Institute, email@example.com
Raffaele Morgantini, Coordination of the Global Campaign Working Group on the Binding Treaty, CETIM, +41796606514, firstname.lastname@example.org