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Time to hold corporations accountable on human rights and environment

Transnational corporations and companies with transnational value chains have gained unprecedented power in today’s globalised economies, to the detriment of human rights and environmental protection. When states meet in the UN Human Rights Council next week they must make progress on a legally binding treaty to hold them accountable.

No binding global legal framework exists to regulate the activities and value chains of transnational mining companies, agribusiness and other businesses with atrocious human rights records. This lack of a level playing field allows unscrupulous companies to escape accountability by finding legal loopholes or subcontracting their obligations to entities in their value chain in different jurisdictions.

This will be the ninth year of discussions on creating binding regulations to govern the human rights impacts of corporations.


FIAN International stands in solidarity with hundreds of affected communities, civil society organizations and social movements around the world urgently calling for a treaty with the teeth to protect peasants, small-scale farmers, Indigenous Peoples, women, fishers, agricultural workers and communities who are disproportionately affected by corporate abuse and harm.  

“There are too many gaps in international law which create impunity for corporations that have caused or contributed to human rights loss and damage,” says FIAN International’s permanent representative to the UN, Ana María Suárez Franco. 

Regional consultations were held in recent months, led by the “friends of the chair”, a group of states formed to support Ecuador which currently chairs the process. Civil society groups also coordinated regional consultations in different regions. Their goal was to urge states to take a stronger negotiating role in this year’s session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights – the full name of the negotiations. They have also put forward demands and proposals from affected communities that should be included in the draft treaty.

Time for genuine negotiation

The official consultations, organised by the chair, not significantly advance on substance and an updated treaty draft did not include some key demands of civil society which would be vital to have in a robust treaty. This makes it crucial that the chair applies transparent and participatory methodologies during the upcoming negotiations to ensure there is a genuine negotiation between states this time.

The US has announced that it will actively participate, which was not the case in the past. It is still unclear how European states will contribute. Civil society hopes that its regional discussion in Latin America, Asia and Africa will lead to states from these regions participating more actively.

As demonstrated in recent cases of industrial and resource-related land grabs in India and Colombia  a robust set of binding rules is needed to ensure peoples human rights are prioritized over economic interests. 

Updated draft and watered-down text

Several attempts are being made to curb political agreements towards realizing a solid treaty. Informal proposals shared abruptly by the chair last year have been included in several key provisions of the latest draft. These weaken human rights standards and norms and disregard what was achieved through the democratic negotiating progress in recent years.

“In what seems like an attempt to streamline the text, some elements on legal liability, prevention and environment justice, are now either lacking teeth or are in some cases completely missing from the updated draft,” says Ayushi Kalyan, FIAN International’s coordinator on corporate capture and regulation.

Corporate interests, or states intent on defending them at the expense of people, must not be allowed to hijack the negotiations. 

“A global playing field that is applicable extraterritorially, is needed more than ever to stop corporate impunity along value chains and businesses webs, causing harm to people and the planet,” adds Stephan Backes, FIAN International’s coordinator on extraterritorial obligations.

This is the only international negotiating space dedicated to set global binding rules on corporate accountability and to ensure that states exercise their regulatory power over companies that make profits while harming people and the environment. Civil society organizations and movements will continue contributing to the process and urging states to remain loyal to the demands they presented when the intergovernmental working group was created.

For more information or media interviews please contact Clara Roig Medina or Tom Sullivan



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