Governments must make progress on UN Human Rights Treaty

A key intergovernmental meeting in Geneva this week needs to make substantive progress towards a UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights, following a joint statement by UN human rights experts calling for a level playing field globally for responsible business conduct.

The trade union position on the negotiations is set out in this joint position paper from the ITUC and Global Union Federations. This week’s meeting will deal with a revised document, the third version of the text.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “This legally binding instrument represents a unique opportunity to set enforceable global standards of responsible business conduct that end the impunity for corporate human rights abuses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic once again has exposed a global economy built on corporate impunity and a race to the bottom, the fragility of global supply chains and business models built on non-standard forms of employment and informality.

“This stage of the negotiations must send a clear message to governments and businesses that you cannot run a business on exploitation of workers, communities and the planet.”

The key priorities for the trade union movement are that:

  • the scope of the treaty must be broad and substantive, covering all internationally recognised human rights, including fundamental worker and trade union rights as defined by relevant international labour standards;
  • all business enterprises must be covered regardless of size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure or parent company-based extraterritorial regulation;
  • there must be justice for victims of transnational corporate human rights violations in the home country of the corporation;
  • there must be regulatory measures that require businesses to adopt and apply human rights due diligence policies and procedures; and
  • the applicability of human rights obligations to the operations of companies and their obligation to respect human rights must be reaffirmed, with a strong international monitoring and enforcement mechanism.

The unions welcome, in the third draft, a better overall integration of gender issues, an acknowledgement of the importance of health and safety in the drive towards sustainable development, a reference to the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment and a reference to obligations of business enterprises to respect human rights, among others.

“We have an opportunity to build on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to hold businesses accountable to their obligations under internationally recognised human rights, including the fundamental principles and rights at work. We will highlight the clear, distinctive and disproportionate impact of business-related human rights abuses on workers, trade unions, communities, and the environment and the need for unambiguous language on liability and a clear mechanism for enforcement and for victims to access remedy.

“We call on all actors, including States and the business community, to participate in the process in good faith and to constructively negotiate a legally binding instrument that respects international rule of law, ends corporate impunity, protects workers and communities and safeguards the planet,” said Sharan Burrow.