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United Nations Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights

United Nations Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights

The United Nations Human Rights Council is currently working on a treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.

The treaty has the potential to radically improve respect for human rights in the supply chains of transnational corporations by introducing binding mechanisms to hold companies accountable under international law.

But it won’t just happen automatically. Much support is still needed from EU member states and other countries. Scroll down to find out how you can help to make it happen.

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What is the proposed UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights?

In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed an open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises with respect to human rights (OEIGWG).

The working group has proposed a binding treaty to hold transnational corporations accountable for human rights abuses within their international supply chains. The group is comprised of representatives of several countries that hold seats on the Human Rights Council.  
 
Led by Ecuador, the treaty is in the early stages of development. The working group has so far discussed the treaty's scope, the obligations for transnational corporations and enforcement mechanisms.
 
This ground-breaking process could lead to major changes for people around the world who experience human rights violations by transnational companies.

By contrast to the UN's existing voluntary guidelines on business and human rights, the treaty would be binding under international law and would make big companies accountable for human rights abuses in their supply chains.
 
Currently, court cases about human rights abuses in supply chains tend to go nowhere because the companies always find a way to move the case to another country in the supply chain/another jurisdiction, where the case must start all over again. The treaty could make it possible to sue companies that have bad practices in developing countries in the companies' home countries (eg. suing a US company in a US court for human rights abuses in Latin America).
 
To date, EU member states on the United Nations Human Rights Council have shown minimal support for the binding treaty. EU member states currently holding seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council include: Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
 
GUE/NGL MEPs are calling on EU member states that are represented in the Human Rights Council to support a binding treaty that would have a real impact on the lives of millions of people. The MEPs are also calling for support from parliamentarians around the world via the Inter-parliamentary Initiative for a UN Binding Treaty.
 

Progress

October 23-26, 2017

Third meeting of the UN Human Rights Council’s open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises with respect to human rights (OEIGWG) in Geneva. The European Union's representatives played a questionable role in the negotiations, not giving full support to the development of the treaty, despite multiple calls from the European Parliament for this.

March 8, 2018

The UN Human Rights Council will discuss the progress made towards the binding treaty in Geneva. On March 8 - International Women's Day - a delegation of GUE/NGL MEPs will also be in Geneva to raise awareness of human rights abuses against women committed by transnational corporations.

October 2-4, 2018

The European Parliament's committees on Development, International Trade and Human Rights presented an oral question on the binding treaty to the Parliament. The European Parliament then adopted a resolution calling on the EU's representatives in Geneva to proactively support the development of the treaty.

October 15-19, 2018

Fourth meeting of the UN Human Rights Council’s open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises with respect to human rights (OEIGWG) in Geneva. Again, the European Union's representatives did not give full support to the development of the treaty. Moreover, they played a somewhat hostile role by not attending one of the key debates and dissociating themselves from the conclusions and recommendations reached through the negotiations. This hostility occured despite the most recent resolution from the European Parliament calling for the EU’s representatives to “engage genuinely and constructively in these negotiations”. Nevertheless, the development of the first draft of the treaty will continue in preparation for the next round of negotiations in 2019.

Short updates will be posted here as the process continues...

 

The Inter-parliamentary Initiative for a UN Binding Treaty

If parliamentarians from around the world put their support behind this treaty it would send a strong signal to the members of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council that the whole world wants this treaty to become a reality.

That why GUE/NGL MEPs created the Inter-parliamentary Initiative for a UN Binding Treaty which asks parliamentarians from around to world to show their support for a binding treaty.

Ask your national and regional parliamentarians to sign today!

 

How you can help to make it happen

  • Contact your country’s representative on the UN Human Rights Council and ask them to support a binding (not voluntary) treaty
  • Ask your national and regional parliamentarians to sign the Inter-parliamentary Initiative for a UN Binding Treaty

 

Case studies

Chevron-Texaco vs. Ecuador

In the early 1990s, Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador which polluted waterways and severely contaminated the soil, resulting in an increase in cancer rates, cultural upheaval and devastation of biodiversity.

Since 1993, the affected communities have organised themselves and called on Texaco - and its parent company Chevron - to clean up the area and provide care for those affected.

In February 2011, the Ecuadorian Supreme Court ordered Chevron to pay USD$9 billion  in compensation.

Chevron, however, did not pay the compensation and instead took the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

In September 2018, the court in The Hague ruled in favour of Chevron, finding the Ecuadorian Court's earlier ruling to be in violation of a bilateral investment treaty signed with the United States in 1997.

This case provides a clear example of how current trade policies enable the interests of transnational corporations to override the interests of people and sovereign democracy.

 

Media resources

Video explaining the need for a binding treaty (EN) (multiple languages coming soon)

Article: GUE/NGL deplores the recent arbitration ruling against Ecuador in the Chevron-Texaco ecocide case, September 19, 2018

Press release: MEPs push for binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights at UN meeting, October 23, 2017

Press conference in Geneva, October 23, 2017

Press release: GUE/NGL delegation urges reparation for Texaco´s ecological crimes in Ecuador, July 19, 2017

Article: EU representatives fail to listen to Parliament regarding UN Treaty on Business & Human Rights, October 24, 2018

 

More information

Briefing by the European Parliament: Towards a binding international treaty on business and human rights

The Inter-parliamentary Initiative for a UN Binding Treaty

Would a Global Business and Human Rights Treaty Work? (article from Rights Info)

The Treaty Alliance

The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity

 

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