New draft of UN business human rights code published

3 August 2019

The UN Open-ended Inter-governmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights (hereafter referred to as just the Working Group) published on 17 July the newest draft of the binding instrument to regulate in international human rights law the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Its main aim is to address and prevent human rights violations by corporations.

The new revised draft is widely seen as a positive step in that it appears to have tackled some of the concerns put forward to the “zero-draft” text. There are two main aspects that have been highlighted as improvements by NGOs and civil society: (i) acknowledgement of the role that the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights (UNGP) have so far played in linking the treaty itself to the guiding principles (rather than seeing the two as parallel processes); and (ii) extension of coverage to all corporations (not just transnationals).

The second change appears to be aimed at addressing some of the concerns of the EU bloc. It amends Article. 3, where it adds that “the treaty should apply to human rights violations in the context of any business activities including particularly but not limited to those of transnational character”. According to experts, the previous draft only referred to human rights violations by big transnational corporations.

In a letter addressed to the EU by a coalition of European civil society organisations, the signatories urge the European Union to fully engage with the negotiations of the treaty, as it has so far seen very limited engagement. According to the letter, the revised draft addresses many of the EU’s previous concerns “by building on the existing UN guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and defining which business activities should be covered”. The signatories further urge the EU and its member states to analyse the content of the draft and engage fully in the upcoming negotiations, “in a transparent, inclusive process”.

The revised draft treaty is due to be analysed and debated at the upcoming 5th Session of the Working Group in Geneva next October.


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