Historic: the Human Rights Council decides to launch negotiations on new binding international norms concerning the human rights responsibilities of TNCs!
The Human Rights Council just adopted a resolution presented by Ecuador and South Africa that establishes an intergovernmental working group with the mandate of developing an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations. “This is a historic decision that can potentially contribute to end the impunity that transnational corporations too often enjoy for the human rights violations committed, in particular in developing countries, and ensure access to justice for the victims of their activities”, said Melik Özden, Director of the Europe-Third World Centre (CETIM), an organization based in Geneva that has been fighting for many years for new binding norms.
The western countries have attempted till the last minute to oppose this resolution using all means available to pressure other member states of the Human Rights Council. The vote was requested by the US delegation. The resolution was finally adopted by 20 votes in favor, 14 against and 13 abstentions. All western states members of the Human Rights Council voted against the resolution. The great majority of developing countries, including most of African states as well as China, India and Russia, voted in favor.
“We can only regret the non-constructive attitude ow western countries that choose too privilege the interests of transnational corporations over the protection of human rights”, added M. Özden. “They have also already announced that they will not participate in the work of the intergovernmental working group.”
The working group will held its first session in 2015 to define the elements, the scope, the nature and the form of the future international instrument. “This is only the beginning of the process, but that represents already a big victory for the peoples of the world, and in particular for the victims in developing countries, that have been demanding binding norms to end corporate impunity since many years”, highlighted M. Özden.
While TNCs have a number of binding laws, mechanisms and instruments available to defend their interests, only voluntary codes of conducts and soft laws exist to control their impacts on human rights and ensure access to justice for the victims of their activities. “It was time for the Human Rights Council to act to correct this asymmetry in the international system that affects primarily the poorest and weakest countries”, said M. Özden
Since several months hundreds of civil society organizations and social movements in the Global North as in the Global South are mobilizing to support this initiative. A number of them gathered in Geneva for a week of mobilization from 23 to 27 June. Many delegates from the Global South and representatives of the victims came to demand new binding norms to end corporate impunity. The CETIM has been strongly involved together with the Global campaign to dismantle corporate power and stop impunity. The cases of Chevron in Ecuador, Coca Cola in Colombia, Shell in Nigeria, Glencore-Xstrata in the Philippines, and Oceana Gold in El Salvador, among others, have been presented to demonstrate the need for a new international instrument
“In 60 years of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta, local communities have known no rest”, said Godwin Ojo, of Friends of the Earth Nigeria. “Shell has systematically violated human rights and destroyed the environment as well as the livelihoods of communities but neither international campaigns nor national laws and regulation agencies have been able to end those practices. This level of impunity demonstrate the need for a binding international instrument that forces TNCs to respect human rights.”
“In 26 years of oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian amazon, Chevron has polluted more than 450’000 hectares of one of the planet’s richest biodiversity regions, destroying the living and subsistence of its inhabitants” explained Pablo Fajardo, defensor and representative of the victims of Chevron in Ecuador. “And after 21 years of litigation and in spite of a sentence of the Ecuadorian justice, Chevron still refuses to pay. And in the meanwhile, the victims of its activities in Ecuador are still waiting for justice and compensation”, he added. “Voluntary codes of conduct have clearly shown their limits, only a binding international instrument can end the impunity of TNCs.”
“Dozens of union leaders are murdered each year in Colombia with complete impunity” said Javier Correa, president of the union Sinaltrainal in Colombia. “In the case of Sinaltrainal, 23 of our affiliates working for Coca Cola or Nestlé have been murdered in the past years. And those TNCs use complex schemes of subsidiaries, subcontractors and franchises to escape justice. The Colombian justice is not doing its job and courts in the US and Switzerland, where those two TNCs have their headquarters, refuse to hear the cases”, he added. “Only binding international norms will enable us to hold TNCs accountable for their crimes in Colombia”.
The journey will still be long but today, and after nearly 40 years of discussions and failed attempts at the United Nations, the process is finally launched! The CETIM would like to congratulate the governments of Ecuador and South Africa for their leadership, as well as all other states that voted in favor of that resolution in spite of the numerous pressures received.