UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights – US and EU Must Step Up

photo: Victor Barro

The ITUC and Global Union Federations are calling on the US and the European Union to fully support negotiations leading to a binding UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights.

The unions are also critical of business associations for their lack of commitment to successful negotiations. The concerns are being raised following the 7th round of discussions involving governments, company representatives, unions and civil society organisations, which ended on 29 October.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “It’s time that governments stop shielding multinational companies from accountability for labour and human rights violations, including in their supply chains. The US, which is proposing a weaker ’framework agreement’ alternative to a treaty with teeth, and the EU are home to many of the world’s multinational companies and bear particular responsibility. They need to step up and engage in serious negotiations to arrive at a binding treaty. Business interests need to recognise that they can no longer be allowed to get away with rights violations.

"We welcome the efforts by various parties to the discussions to make real progress by the time the 8th negotiating session takes place. Our ITUC Global Poll shows two-thirds of people want their governments to adopt new rules for multinational corporations to end human rights abuse through their supply chains. We must work together to deliver a legally binding instrument that addresses existing gaps in international business and human rights legal architecture and supplements domestic legislation in this area. This must build on the UNGPs and other multilateral, national and regional initiatives.”

The unions, including the ITUC, ITF, BWI, EI, IndustriALL, UNI and PSI, have engaged in the process to develop a business and human rights treaty by calling for:

  • a broad substantive scope covering all internationally recognised human rights, including fundamental workers’ rights, as defined by relevant international labour standards;
  • the coverage of all business enterprises, regardless of size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure;
  • parent company-based extraterritorial regulation and access to justice for victims of transnational corporate human rights violations in the home State of transnational corporations;
  • regulatory measures that require business to adopt and apply human rights due diligence policies and procedures;
  • reaffirmation of the applicability of human rights obligations to the operations of companies and their obligation to respect human rights; and
  • a strong international monitoring and enforcement mechanism.