We live in a world where corporations have unprecedented powers. Every day, transnational corporations impact ordinary people – from exploiting workers and destroying the environment, to avoiding taxes and devastating communities through extraction. They do this with almost complete impunity because they have seized unprecedented influence over governments and decision makers.
This week, an historic proposal will be discussed in Geneva that could hold transnational corporations and other business enterprises to account for corporate abuses under international human rights law. The UN is calling on governments to work on developing a set of legally-binding rules known as the UN treaty on business and human rights. This treaty could protect people from human rights abuses by corporations and help victims of abuse and affected communities achieve justice and remedy.
The European Union (EU) has been reluctant to join these discussions as a bloc before, but will be present now, following pressure from organizations like Friends of the Earth Europe and ECCJ to participate in good faith. It’s a welcome step, but it’s only a step, when we should be far down the road towards protecting fundamental human rights.
During the discussion, the EU, and all states at the table, should ensure the treaty is binding and enforceable, to prevent human rights violations by corporations, and stop the impunity of corporate actors for those abuses. Access to justice should also be central, not only in victims’ own states, but in all states with jurisdiction over transnational corporations.
The human rights of ordinary people must be respected and protected, wherever they are in the world. This treaty could help communities negatively affected by big business, and help bring justice to victims of corporate malpractice. It’s an opportunity for the EU as a whole to show it is serious about preventing corporate abuse, and ensuring the fundamental human rights of people. It’s an opportunity we hope they take seriously.
Friends of the Earth Europe and ECCJ will be present in Geneva alongside a broad alliance of organizations, called the Treaty Alliance, pushing for rights for people and rules for business. You can follow developments on twitter with the hashtags #bindingtreaty and #StopCorporateAbuse.