Global unions welcome next step in binding treaty process to end corporate impunity

The global unions have welcomed the next step in the process of agreeing a binding United Nations (UN) treaty on business and human rights, despite difficult negotiations at the UN in Geneva.

The intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights held its sixth session, 26 – 30 October 2020, and adopted a final report that will form the basis of actual negotiations in 2021.

This was despite the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) obstructing the process, the US rejecting the process and the EU delegation not having a negotiating mandate.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “The IOE, the ICC and the US need to admit that it’s time to end corporate impunity. COVID-19 has re-emphasised the risks of having global supply chains not built on a level playing field for business and with insufficient human and labour rights protection for workers and communities.

“Working people will not wait any longer for a legally binding agreement that requires multinational businesses to take human rights seriously. Everyone involved needs to engage with the process and stop stalling, the EU must take a more active role and we hope that the new Biden administration in the US takes a constructive and active role in the negotiation process.”

At the talks in Geneva, the global unions called for the negotiations to be based on:

  • all internationally recognised human rights, including fundamental workers’ and trade union rights, as defined by relevant international labour standards;
  • coverage of all business enterprises regardless of size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure and parent company-based extraterritorial regulation;
  • access to justice for victims of transnational corporate human rights violations in the home state of transnational corporations;
  • regulatory measures that require businesses to adopt and apply human rights due diligence policies and procedures; and
  • a strong international monitoring and enforcement mechanism.

The joint trade union statement on the second revised draft of the proposed Binding Treaty can be found here, and the critical need for the treaty is explained here by the legal directors of the ITUC and the ITF.

Unions welcomed the strengthening of the gender dimension throughout the text and the inclusion of a provision that explicitly required states to ensure that any existing or new trade and investment agreements were compatible with the human rights obligations under the Binding Treaty.

However, the union delegation called for:

  • the explicit recognition in the treaty of trade unionists as human rights defenders and for trade unions to be expressly acknowledged as an integral part of human rights due diligence (HRDD) processes;
  • the support of a complementary international mechanism to supervise compliance; and
  • more clarity on the relationship between liability for failing to conduct mandatory HRDD and liability for human rights abuses.

“Governments and companies have been put on notice: you cannot run a business on exploitation that is against the rule of law! Corporate behaviour that goes against the global rule of law cannot be defended,” said Ms Burrow.