September 26, 2017

Toward Global Regulation on Human Rights and Business

Germany Treaty Alliance

In June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a historic resolution, initiated by Ecuador and South Africa, to establish an intergovernmental working group that will elaborate a legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises. Trade and investment protection agreements facilitate business enterprises’ access to markets and raw materials, and protect investor interests with enforceable rights. Although human rights are a cornerstone of international law, so far there exist only voluntary guidelines to safeguard them within the activities of global enterprises. The “UN treaty process” gives primacy to business and human rights over the obligations of trade and investment protection agreements.

From October 23 to October 27, 2017, the intergovernmental working group is convening for the third time in Geneva to negotiate the elements for a prospective treaty, which serves as a legally binding instrument that compels states to obligate their corporations to respect human rights, including within their extraterritorial activities, subsidiaries, and supply chains. The key elements of the future treaty—state obligations, prevention, effective remedy, jurisdiction, international co-operation, and enforcement mechanisms—are presented in this position paper. Outlining clear rules for business enterprises and for strengthening access to justice for affected parties, the signatory organizations of the position paper make the case that human rights need a mandatory commitment.

Alongside Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and other current and former UN special rapporteurs, such as Olivier de Schutter, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Maina Kiai, and Alfred de Zayas, as well as multiple experts in international law, a broad coalition of over 700 civil society organizations worldwide supports the process toward a binding international treaty. Since the inception of the intergovernmental working group, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office has closely accompanied the UN treaty process on transnational corporations and other business enterprises, including through the publication of this position paper of the Treaty Alliance Germany. In 2016, RLS—NYC, together with the Global Policy Forum (GPF), commissioned a study, which details the history of the Treaty process and presents ways in which governments can prioritize human rights over the interests of big business.