Workshop on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations
The Permanent Mission of Ecuador in Geneva has organized a workshop on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations (TNCs) at the Palais des Nations on March 11-12, 2014.
The event named "Human Rights and Transnational Corporation: Paving the way for a legally binding instrument" was created to follow the initiative for a legally binding instrument on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations (TNCs) called by a number of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). During the workshop delegations, academics, experts, international organizations and CSOs presented arguments and counter-arguments about the need for legally binding obligations for TNCs.
The proposal of such an instrument on TNCs and human rights was supported by the delegations of Ecuador, South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba, and Chile, as well as by most of the panelists. One of the main arguments was the ineffectiveness of both self-regulation and voluntary approaches by TNCs when guaranteeing human rights accountability. The issue of urgency was underlined by organizing delegations particularly when referring to the right to remedy for victims of human rights abuses, which the current notion of voluntary cooperative responsibility is unable to guarantee.
Arguments in favor of this proposal from panelists at the event highlighted the ineffectiveness of soft-law initiatives in protecting human rights, the systemic and extra-territorial impact of TNCs activities, the economic and political power of TNCs, the lack of institutional capacity of States where those companies operate, and the asymmetries of rights and obligations between States and companies as the origin of impunity of human rights violations. Therefore, most of the interventions have contributed to present the adoption of a legally binding instrument as a necessary future step in regulation of TNCs activities.
At the workshop, statements were made by CSOs supporting the Treaty initiative by focusing on:
- The obligation to cooperate internationally along with the application of human rights law obligations and responsibilities to both States and TNCs for all types of violations
- Impunity of TNCs' violations and existing asymmetries between soft law regulating human rights and hard law regulating companies' interests and investments
- Recourse to justice and redress for affected communities, and TNCs privileges arising from bilateral investment treaties, international trade and investment arbitration panels
- The importance of an intergovernmental process for the elaboration of new international standards, protection for the full range of human rights, and extraterritorial obligations of States
On the other side, oppositions to the Treaty were expressed at this event in Geneva by delegations of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the European Union. These were all focused on the need to continue the process of implementing the at the national level, based on a 'supposed incompatibility' between hard-law and soft-law in the field of Business and Human Rights. Finally, a cautious approach was adopted by the delegation of Ethiopia, which emphasized the need to discuss the Treaty initiative by taking into account the right to development and the context of developing countries in need to promote and attract foreign investment. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
During the next four months civil society organizations and social movements are called to support the initiative of a binding Treaty carrying out lobby work at their capitals. This process would ensure that member States of the Human Rights Council vote in favor of the creation of an Open-Ended working group at the Human Rights Council, which shall be in charge of preparing the draft of such Treaty.