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UN Treaty talks Day 1: The EU is in the room, but is that enough?

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• Second meeting on a binding UN Treaty on business and human rights kicked off in Geneva, Monday 24 October 2016. • EU and Member States delegations present • US and Canada are major absences. • Strong presence from Civil Society Organisations around the globe.

The second session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises started Monday, 24 October 2016, at the UN in Geneva.

The discussions are part of a lengthy process, spanning over several years, with the end goal of developing internationally binding regulation in the field of business and human rights, also known as the UN Treaty.

The first day of debate started with a full house, enjoying wide participation from both States and civil society. The EU and its Member States were present, a welcomed change compared to 2015’s limited participation.

Although their presence is an important first step in the right direction, the EU needs to continue to demonstrate a willingness to constructively contribute to the Treaty process.

The meeting began with the re-election of Ms Maria Fernanda Espinosa, the Ecuadorian Ambassador, as Chair, followed by the unchallenged adoption of the Programme of Work.

In 2015, the adoption of the Programme of Work was the moment when the general consensus ended. The EU representative – joined by the French and Luxemburg delegates – introduced two new Treaty conditions, one being an expansion of scope, which blocked discussions. After a hectic first day, the EU stepped out of the debate, its empty chair policy attracting much criticism from civil society organisations. More on what happened last year here

The EU’s 2016 address started with a restated commitment to business and human rights issues and the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). It mentioned the need to expand the Treaty’s scope to domestic business entities – the condition that blocked discussions in 2015 – and that of including all stakeholders in the debate: NGOs, trade unions and the business community.

The EU asked for the discussions to be both rooted in, and complementary with the UNGPs, and ended its intervention with a lengthy quote from Prof John Ruggie as food for thought for the audience. The quote warns of an all-embracing scope and urges to use international legal instruments as precision tools and building upon existing foundations.

It is our belief that both the UNGPs and a well-made UN Treaty represent essential pathways to achieving greater protection against business-related human rights impacts across the globe.

Another important moment, which coincidently immediately followed the EU’s address, was a civil society walk-out during Brazil’s statement. While the initial idea was for Brazilian NGOs to step out in a political statement protesting recent events in the country’s Parliament, many other NGOs joined in a show of solidarity.

From Palais de Nations to the streets

Civil society organisations from around the world are present in Geneva in large numbers, for a week of mobilisation including actions, protests, meetings and side events. Yesterday, a protest action took place in front of the UN, in support of victims of corporate abuse and affected communities across the globe seeking justice and remedy. Despite the terrible weather, more actions are schedules to take place every day this week, to remind delegations present that the world is watching.

Good start to a long process

Compared to 2015, this year’s discussions are a much welcomed improvement and a testament of the relentless work European civil society organisations have put into promoting and supporting improved EU participation.

We are now calling on the EU to carefully consider all civil society submissions on the Treaty’s possible content, and put forth a comprehensive position during this week’s discussions.

Serious progress in this area cannot happen without EU engagement or leadership, and the many voices of affected communities present in the room yesterday are a vivid testament of the urgent need for effective action.

You can follow developments on twitter with the hashtags #bindingtreaty and #StopCorporateAbuse. You can use hashtags to tweet directly to your national delegations or to the EU delegations and ask for enhanced participation!

Video interviews with civil society in Geneva

Our Statement ahead of the event

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