UN meeting provides historic opportunity to stop corporate impunity

13 June 2014

Popular demands for a binding treaty on corporate human right violations will get an unprecedented hearing this month at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The 26th Session of the UNHRC (June 10-27) in Geneva could make an historic first step towards ending corporate impunity. In an unprecedented initiative last September 2013, the Ecuador government and 84 other governments submitted a Statement to the UNHRC proposing a Binding legal instrument for TNC operations.

A binding instrument means that corporations would be legally accountable for human rights abuses and differs from the current international approach that merely proposes voluntary codes of conduct without any legal accountability.

The call for a binding instrument has long been a demand by affected communities who daily experience corporate human rights violations and crimes impacting their daily lives. TNI as part of a ‘Corporate Power’ network work for the last few years has been working with others to pull together over 500 social movements, human rights networks and affected communities into a Treaty Alliance calling on UNCHR to open the process for developing a Binding Treaty.

The momentum of the campaign has caught corporations and their government backers off guard as growing numbers of governments back Ecuador’s position. However the US, Japan and EU governments seem determined to block any shifts away from a purely voluntary approach despite its patent failure in recent years to curb corporate abuses.

According to Gonzalo Berron, of the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity “a binding international human rights architecture is needed to protect peoples’ rights from the asymmetry of power produced by the corporate accumulation of wealth and the political advantages it creates. For this, we must overturn an economic and legal system that only protect investors' rights using corporate-biased arbitration panels such as the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) or the WTO dispute panels."

"It is time for transnational corporations, which are responsible for the majority of international trade and investment flows, to be legally accountable for corporate human rights violations and systemic economic and ecological crimes”.

In an oral statement to the UNHRC at its opening Session, Melik Ozden of CETIM, called on governments to “create an intergovernmental working group to negotiate these binding norms that are a major gap in the international human rights framework, after more than 40 years of debates in the United Nations on the matter." echoing the demands from affected communities who have submitted written statements to the UNHRC last May.

The historic opportunity has led to intense peoples’ advocacy for Binding Obligations on TNCs both in national capitals in several regions where UNCHR members are based as well as in the corridors of the Palais des Nations in Geneva where the Government of Ecuador has opened a series of public consultations on the Draft resolution that will be submitted to the UNHRC:

  • 12/06 Room XVIII from 15:00 to 17:00;
  • 17/06 Room XVII from 17:00 to 19:00;
  • 19/06 Room VII from 17:00 to 19:00

Meanwhile, a Week of Mobilisation will take place for the week of June 23-27 in Geneva where representatives of affected communities (Chevron/Ecuador; Shell/Nigeria, Mekorot/Palestine, Glencore/Philippines, Peru and DRC; Lonmin/South Africa) as well as leaders of social movements will engage governments, the media and public in a series of events to state the case for ending corporate impunity.

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