• Second day of debates on a binding UN Treaty on business and human rights runs smoothly. • EU and Member States delegations present • US and Canada are still absent • Delegates discuss issues regarding extraterritoriality
The week-long series of discussions on developing internationally binding regulation in the field of business and human rights, also known as the UN Treaty, got off to a productive start on Monday and continued in the same fashion on Tuesday.
Palais des Nations’s Room XX saw a good presence from states, the EU and Member States included, as well as China, Russia, Japan, Bolivia, Cuba and South Africa. Major absences are still the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland.
Tuesday’s debate revolved around issues of extraterritoriality, with the morning panel on Extraterritorial obligations related to TNCs and other business enterprises with respect to protecting human rights; and afternoon one on Jurisprudential and practical approaches to elements of extraterritoriality and national sovereignty.
The Netherlands shared their full agreement with the statement the EU has made on Monday, and reminded that they were the first to adopt national action plan on business and human rights. The Dutch delegate shared information on national initiatives on business and human rights, and informed the panel that discussion could begin on binding legislation to hold companies to account if the sectoral agreements they are currently working on "do not produce the desired results."
During the morning panel, Daniel Aguirre from the International Commission of Jurists explained that a common problem for a considerable number of developing countries is the lack of legal protection for human rights in national legislation as well as the lack of access to remedies, and that the Treaty could bridge this important gap.
Following statements by Ariel Meyerstein from US Council for International Business were met with wide disagreement from civil society orgnisations in the room. Mr Meyerstein attested that investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms could be seen as a form of human rights protection.
Mr Meyerstein’s comments were countered by both Ana María Suárez Franco, from FIAN International, and the Bolivian delegation, which reflected that they do not correspond to their direct experience in the matter. The Bolivian delegation asked Mr Meyerstein to provide concrete examples of how ISDS courts could facilitate access to remedy for victims of abuse.
Ms Suárez Franco showed how the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights could apply to the Treaty. She explained that often human rights abuses occur because States have laws and policies that are favourable to abuses, when in fact they have an obligation to create an international enabling environment and a responsibility to provide access to remedy for victims.
During the afternoon panel, Harris Gleckmann from the University of Massachusetts looked at several avenues for remedy for affected people and communities (including national and subnational legal systems, ombudsmen, home country responsibilities via extra-territorial obligations, and an international court dealing with corporate human rights abuses).
Leah Margulies from Corporate Accountability International talked about about the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, highlighting why we need data that demonstrate the high costs of human rights abuses and environmental damage caused by TNCs, costs that governments eventually have to bear.
Civil Society Events
Civil society organisations were very active during the second day of discussions. Their efforts focusing on outside events and gatherings, as well as side-discussions organised within the framework of the Treaty talks at the Palais des Nations.
During one of these side-discussions, Professor Surya Deva, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, expressed support for the establishment of the UN Treaty, stating that that the UN Working Group is in favour of the Treaty process.
Day two concluded with all states still at the debate table. Although an excellent start, civil society organisations in Geneva are hopeful more engagement from EU and Member States on issues of content will follow in the upcoming days.
Special thanks to SOMO, FIDH and FOEE for helping with writing the summary!