LVC southern and eastern Africa region calls for a binding treaty on the responsibilities of TNCs

(Johannesburg, 3 April 2019) La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa (LVC SEAf) along with other members of the Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, gathered in Johannesburg for a meeting of its reference group, urgently call for popular and public support to the United Nations Binding Treaty on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations (TNCs) for the Human Rights violations. The SADC region is home to many extractive industries, including mining on land and sea, industrial agriculture and industrial fishing, which have affected the lives of thousands of peasants and working people through destruction of the environment, displacement and exploitation and poor working conditions. In a few cases, these TNCs were linked to criminalisation of protests and killing of human rights defenders.

Many of the TNCs operating in the region have yearly budgets that are bigger than those of the entire African countries. “There is a huge asymmetry of power between African governments and the global TNCs” said Brid Brennan from the Transnational Institute (TNI). African governments continuously seek foreign investments into their economies to promote growth, looking for the silver bullet for many social ills of which unemployment is one priority. In this context, national laws and policies, are in most instances limiting as to how much they can do to protect national populations from TNC pressure and power, considering the growing evidenced trend of impunity of TNCs in Africa.  

TNCs and some world governments understand that if adopted, this treaty will be a big threat to their profits, power and monopolies. Hence, governments of the Global South and Global North need to work together to ensure treaty is well built, approved and implemented. Human rights are important for all international trade agreements. This Treaty is aimed to guarantee the rights of affected peoples.

The African group has been instrumental in the driving the process of the Binding Treaty in the UN Human Rights Council. However, the technical and diplomatic teams of African missions in Geneva is limited. They lack adequate human resources to participate in all the sessions discussing the treaty. Sometimes, their mandates are limited or not clearly defined by their national governments to engage in the sessions. This is not surprising considering the stance of most governments towards attracting foreign direct investment. The implications of this treaty are complex and this could hinder decisive actions of some governments. As LVC SEAf, we commend the efforts of the South African government in this process, as well as the growing support of other African member states of the UN HRC. We call on the governments within the SEAf region, as well as other African governments to increase positive engagement in this Treaty process.

Social movements and civil society in the continent are also crucial for the success of the Binding Treaty. It is crucial that we strategize and mobilize at national, regional and continental levels. It is urgent that we revive endeavours to reform trade and trade agreements, and increase the interaction and integration of the different sectors of society (trade unions, peasants, health workers, and others) in order to understand the complexities and expose the impunity of TNCs.

According to Ngoni Chikowe, a Zimbabwean peasant farmer and member of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF) “this treaty is very important because sometimes governments are not capable of reacting to certain violations. The treaty is an important tool for the protection of local communities in the face of current and potential violations and subsequent impunity of TNCs.”

The TNC campaign presented 6 concrete proposals for the binding instrument: including the – (1) obligations for TNCs, extraterritorial obligations; (2) instrument of enforcement, the responsibility of TNCs in the global supply chains; (3) architecture of the global corporate law (International Financial Institutions, the World Trade Organisation and the investment and trade regime); as well as (4) rights of the affected communities.

Our SEAf region has experienced unprecedented cyclones and is facing a severe drought due to climate change. The direct and indirect impacts of climate extremes are highly aggravated by the destructive activities of TNCs in terms of land-use, environmental degradation and the overall resilience of local communities and territories.

As a member of the Southern African Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Stop Impunity, and Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, we invite and welcome you to join us in collectively building this process of mobilization towards a campaign to dismantle the corporate power of transnational corporations and their crimes against humanity.