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UN resumes negotiations for urgently needed binding treaty

“UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights: Historic opportunity”

This was the title of a virtual press conference held on Tuesday which urged States to engage to put an end to the impunity of transnational corporations.

The press conference (a recording of which is available below) – hosted by the  Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity [1] – took place after the start of the sixth session of the United Nations Intergovernmental Working Group that is negotiating a binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights violations [2], in-person in Geneva, Switzerland and virtually. The negotiations first started in 2015 within the framework of the UN Human Rights Council.

The panelists at today´s press conference were:

-Charles Santiago, member of the Malaysian Parliament and chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Malaysia.

-Leila Chaibi, MEP and member of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left, from France.

-Manoela Carneiro Roland,  HOMA’s Coordinator (Human Rights and Business Center) and Professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil.

-Keamogetswe Seipato, Coordinator of the Southern African Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power and member of the Alternative Information and Development Center (AIDC), South Africa.

Leila Chaibi referenced human rights violations perpetrated by several European transnational corporations in African and Latin American countries. She highlighted how the European Union “is not addressing this and doesn´t hesitate in signing free trade agreements” in countries where these violations take place. “We can´t turn a blind eye to these situations, human rights are not protected in the countries where these companies operate,” she said. “We need to work everywhere to put an end to the impunity of transnational corporations.” Meanwhile, Keamogetswe Seipato stressed “the need for corporations to be held accountable. The binding treaty has to be a means to help communities get access to reparations for all the violations they have had to endure. And it needs to work towards the dismantling of corporate power.”

When it was her turn to speak, Manoela Carneiro Roland considered the need to overcome the “voluntary paradigm” of the “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” of 2011, which have failed to make transnational corporations respect human rights. She said that these principles don´t address the primacy of human rights over, for instance, trade agreements.

The lawyer explained that Resolution 26/9 of the UN Human Rights Council, which in 2014 created the intergovernmental working group that is now negotiating the binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights, focused on the actions of transnational corporations. Now its scope has been expanded to include “other business enterprises” – a matter of great concern for the Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, which fears that this loose term will enable transnational corporations to continue evading their human rights obligations. “There are no treaties or binding regulations that defend human rights, but there are many that protect corporations. There must be direct obligations for transnational corporations, not just States,” said Carneiro Roland.

Meanwhile, Charles Santiago demanded that States do more and move away from the “business as usual” approach. “Things have dramatically changed during the pandemic and countries must do more. The interests of big corporations cannot be the only ones that are protected. If Covid-19 has made one thing clear it’s that things must change and human rights must be defended,” he stressed.