Governments Should Back Binding UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights

The ITUC is calling on governments to support a United Nations Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights in negotiations underway at the UN Human Rights Council. A “Zero Draft” of the Treaty will be the basis for a further round of talks starting on 15 October in Geneva.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “The world is crying out for multinational corporations to be held responsible for their international operations, to end the abuse and violations of workers’ and other human rights in global supply chains. Today, companies can flout international law at will outside their home bases, and workers are paying a heavy price with poverty wages, oppressive working conditions, unacceptably long working hours and death, injury and sickness caused by work. This treaty should close a massive loophole which allows corporations to flout international labour and human rights standards.”

The zero draft includes crucial provisions which would represent a big step forward in ensuring corporate accountability throughout global supply chains:

a requirement for businesses to adopt and apply human rights due diligence policies and procedures;

a strong focus on access to effective judicial recourse for victims of human rights violations;

a basis for “parent-based extraterritorial jurisdiction”, which will allow workers to have access to justice in the home countries of multinational companies; and

mutual legal assistance and international cooperation between states in transnational cases.

The ITUC is calling for improvements to the draft, including:

a re-statement of the duty of businesses to respect human rights throughout their operations;

explicit recognition that human rights standards have primacy over trade and investment agreements;

alignment of due diligence provisions with the existing UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and

creation of a strong international enforcement mechanism beyond the frameworks which have been proposed so far for the Treaty.

The ITUC is also seeking to remove ambiguous language from the draft, and for the treaty to limit the use of “forum non conveniens”, a legal doctrine which corporations use to have cases against them heard by courts in countries where the law is weak.

“Governments at the G20 G20 The Group of Twenty, or G20, is a forum for international cooperation on the most important aspects of the international economic and financial agenda. It brings together 19 countries and the European Union, which together represent around 90% of global GDP, 80% of global trade and two thirds of the world’s population. and other fora have been making pledges to stop the undermining of ILO standards as a way to get a competitive edge in global markets. It’s time these words are put into action through a binding UN Treaty,” said Burrow.

To read the ITUC/Global Union Federations position paper for the negotiations.

For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 02 53 or mail to: press@ituc-csi.org