Seeds of hope for treaty on human rights

28 October 2016

The seeds have been sown for an international agreement that could put human rights before corporate interests, according to Friends of the Earth Europe. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) met this week in Geneva to discuss a set of legally-binding rules for transnational corporations in relation to human rights known as "the UN treaty".

The UN treaty could protect people from human rights abuses by corporations and bring corporate actors to justice, according to Friends of the Earth Europe, who along with a broad coalition of civil society and European citizens have been calling on the European Union to support a binding treaty and to participate in the discussions in Geneva.

Anne van Schaik, from Friends of the Earth Europe said: "We are content to see the EU and some member states finally in the room—in response to demands from European citizens to put human rights before corporate interests. The seeds have been sown for a binding treaty on human rights; the EU must now focus on collaborating with EU civil society and affected people around the world, and crafting the concrete elements that bring it to life."

The creation of a set of international binding rules will have profound implications for the world's largest companies and their supply chain, obliging them to respect human rights in a way they have never had to before.

Lucia Ortiz, from Friends of the Earth Brazil said: "This Treaty was always meant to be about binding rules to finally rein in the behaviour of transnational companies and their supply chain. The fact that so many countries—led by South Africa and Ecuador—voiced their unequivocal support for legally binding rules, sets exactly the right tone for an ambitious and far-reaching negotiation."

"More than a hundred activists from 29 countries were present at this session in Geneva. Civil society strength was felt outside in public activities, and inside where strong interventions and proposals on content were made. We also stood together in solidarity with the Brazilian people challenging the current illegitimate government in Brazil."

It is important to continue to resist business' attempts to capture the process and weaken ambitions, including by restricting corporations' participation in negotiations due to conflict of interest.

The UN treaty would provide a sharp and much-needed counterpoint to the continued promotion of increasingly controversial free trade and investment agreements, which promote the rights of transnational corporations at the expense of peoples and the environment, and even allow them to sue countries directly in secret courts [4].

The European Union has an unprecedented opportunity to put human rights before corporate rights by continuing in discussions around the UN treaty, and must ensure effective implementation mechanisms—to constrain and control big business, and to deter and punish human rights abuses by the world's largest companies.