Negotiations continue for a binding treaty on business and human rights

12 November 2017

The U.N. Intergovernmental Working Group formed to elaborate an international binding treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises held its third session in Geneva between 23-27 October. More than 100 states and over 200 civil society representatives were present at the session.

The Working Group, currently chaired by Guilleume Long, Permanent Representative of Ecuador in Geneva, has been mandated to elaborate the treaty by a Human Rights Council Resolution, approved in June 2014. The Working Group was then tasked to prepare the elements for the draft legally binding treaty, to be discussed during the third session. The Elements paper became the main document for discussion during the October 2017 session.

The treaty is seen as an essential instrument to protect victims of business-related human rights abuse, to counter impunity, and to improve access to justice. However, there is still a long and winding road ahead. Important players, such as the European Union (EU), reportedly tried to leave the process, raising procedural reasons. In the end, the EU remained, and the working group concluded the session by requesting “further informal consultations with States and other relevant stakeholders on the way forward on the elaboration of a legally binding instrument”. It was also agreed that the Elements paper would remain open for further comment until February “and will then, together with the outcomes from the 2015 and 2016 session, form the basis for developing the zero-draft treaty for the fourth working group session in 2018”.

One of the main successes of this year’s session is the increasing strength and presence of the civil society movement, which is exerting political pressure for the negotiations to continue. “Political pressure from social movements, NGOs and communities affected by TNCs' human rights violations, was essential to overcoming obstructive tactics used by several parties, especially the EU”, said Lynne Davies, from the international peasant organisation, La Via Campesina.

2018 will be an interesting year, wherein civil society’s role in exerting political pressure and highlighting human rights abuses will be key for the delivery of a draft treaty that puts human rights above business interests.

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