This week (23-27 October) United Nations member states resume historical negotiations in the ninth session at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs).
The consistent participation of members of communities affected by activities of transnational corporations, civil-society organisations, trade unions and social movements makes it one of the most strongly supported processes in the history of UN human rights treaty negotiations. The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign), representing more than 260 million people globally affected by Transnational Corporations has, once again, a strong presence in Geneva, where it is contributing decisively to the negotiations.
At the opening day, a broad group of states blocked the adoption of the program of work because of their concerns about the new text’s failure to incorporate their views and address the core mandate of the treaty to focus on transnationals. They also raised broader concerns regarding the non-democratic and non-transparent methodology of the Chair of the process, Ecuador.
In particular, the African group –representing all 54 African states took the lead and was backed by numerous state delegates from Global South countries, such as Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The backlash was so strong that the Chair had to suspend the morning session to seek consensus, and was only able to proceed after conceding to use a track-changes version of the text, which reflected prior proposals of states they felt had been unfairly removed. The Chair was also forced to defend the shift in focus from transnational corporations to all businesses – a shift that accommodates the positions of the EU, US, other developed countries, as well as industry trade groups involved in the process. He insisted he was not trying to impose a new focus for the treaty, and agreed that it was not within his power to make such a shift and that issues of scope would decided through negotiations.
Delegates from the Global Campaign echoed the concerns of government delegates in the meeting.
Leticia Oliveira from Movement of People Affected by Dams in Brazil and La Via Campesina speaking as the Transnational Institute, on behalf of the Global Campaign said: “It is very discouraging to everyone in the room, and above all, to everyone we here represent, movements and States alike, to participate in a process that is not transparent. Yesterday, many state delegations, not by coincidence representing the territories where most corporate crimes occur, manifested concerns about the process and the content of the updated draft.”
Mohammed Hakech, from the Moroccan National Federation of agricultural unions (FNSA), La Via Campesina said: “The presidency does not have the authority to modify the mandate of this Working Group when it wants to broaden the scope of the draft treaty to any type of enterprise when it should focus only on TNCs. But in fact, this is what the Presidency did. The document presented will have no impact on the impunity of either TNCs or their value chain. It will also not contribute to the restoration of popular and state sovereignty, undermined by the power of these entities, nor access to justice for victims.”
7 delegates [list below] from the Global Interparliamentary Network (GIN), a network of more than 200 Members of Parliament supporting the UN Binding Treaty negotiations , attended the negotiations and organized an event at the UN exposing the challenges that corporations pose to their work as elected representatives and policy makers. In a shared statement they stated:
“The objective of this Binding Treaty is to put an end to the existing global legal deficiencies and guarantee that transnational companies are held accountable, and stop the impunity that occurs at global and local levels directly or indirectly with their affiliated companies and subsidiaries, who must respond for acts that threaten the violation of the rights of people, indigenous peoples and local communities, territories and the environment.”
As the Monday session reached a close, representatives of affected communities and activists from all over the world gathered in front of the UN Palace where activists climbed on top of the legendary Broken Chair monument to unfurl a giant banner with the slogan “Rights for Peoples, Rules for Corporations”. Leaders from communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe spoke powerfully about their experiences with transnational corporations violating human rights, attacking Human Rights defenders and trade unionists, and destroying livelihoods. Many activists also expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people by wearing flags or scarves, connecting the global struggle against TNCs impunity with the ongoing genocide happening in Gaza.
The ongoing genocide in Gaza was a recurrent and central theme of the UN negotiations, and both State and civil society speakers connected the human rights violations happening in Gaza with the work to hold transnationals accountable for human rights. Wesam Ahmad, from the Al-Haq Center for Applied International Law mentioned in the opening remarks that “It must not be lost on the initial champions of this treaty process, including many in the African and Latin American group, that the same companies historically involved in the suffering of their people are developing interests today in the natural gas fields of the Mediterranean Sea, while arms manufactures are struggling to meet demand and new trade routes are being developed. The devastation in Gaza is not isolated; it is a symptom of a larger problem—a system where transnational corporations stand to benefit from oppression, killings, and destruction in the support of imperial ambitions.”
Also visible at the negotiations, were trade associations flexing their muscle to influence the process, representing millions of corporations worldwide.
Representatives from the International Chamber of Commerce, International Organisation of Employers and US Council for International Business weighed in on the negotiations, calling for a “collaborative” approach. However this industry participation in the process was roundly denounced by the civil society coalitions defending the treaty, as Erika Mendes from Ja!, Friends of the Earth Mozambique and Friends of the Earth International said, “Corporate interference in this process is one of the main obstacles to securing a strong treaty that defends human rights and communities around the world. The consistent interference of corporate front groups in this process is part of an attempt to normalize corporate capture in policymaking – from our capitals at home to the halls of the United Nations. That’s why civil society supporting this treaty has been unanimous since the beginning of the process that we must protect these negotiations, and the implementation of the treaty, from corporate capture.”
What’s clear from the first two days of negotiations is that there is a growing and critical mass of governments and civil society that are invested in securing a treaty that defends human rights, holds transnationals accountable, and provides access to justice for communities across the globe. With rampant human rights and ecological destruction ongoing, the world cannot wait.
The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign) is a network of over 250 social movements, civil society organisations (CSOs), trade unions and communities affected by the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs), representing 260 million people globally. https://www.stopcorporateimpunity.org
Seven delegates members of the Global Interparliamentary Network (GIN) present in Geneva for the 9th round of negotiations:Colombian Parliament, Alirio Uribe Muñoz and Karmen Ramírez Boscán; from the European Parliament, Miguel Urbán (Spain) and Helmut Sholtz (Germany); from National Assembly of Zambia, Sydney Mushanga; from Parliament of Uruguay, Lilian Galán; and from Parliament of Guatemala Sonia Gutiérrez.
- 2014 26/9 Resolution that started this process.
- OHCHR documentation to prepare 9th session OIGWG.
- Website Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity.
- “Frontiers of an effective Binding Treaty”. Key arguments the Global Campaign puts forwards for an effective Binding Treaty
- First impressions on the updated draft for the 9th session by the Global Campaign
- Website Global Interparliamentarian Network in support of the Binding Treaty
- Social Media: @StopTNCimpunity #BindingTreaty #StopCorporateImpunity
HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOS
Demonstration in Place des Nations in Geneva
Clara Roig / FIAN International, CC BY-NC 4.0 https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1L4AnAaLV6e6XMM6hXv2WfdcCcebqdb2z
Angel Amaya, Corporate Accountability. CC BY-NC 4.0 https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1up7mPYzkWe44vjDSHJfMemjibyi18mcu?usp=sharing