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20 Okt 2023

Feminists for a Binding Treaty

Five reasons the Binding Treaty needs to be feminist

Feminists for a Binding Treaty

For the past nine years, every October, the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations, States and civil society organisations have met in Geneva to engage in debate around an urgent issue — the need for a binding treaty to address human rights violations by corporations across the world.

In just a few days, they will meet again to negotiate a text that could empower those affected by corporate abuses to claim their rights and obtain justice. Ahead of this session, here are five reasons we believe the process and the legally binding instrument need to be feminist in order to be effective:

  1. Women bear the burden of multiple crises: Food insecurity, climate change and corporate abuse impact women more heavily, through multiple forms of discrimination. As one example, rural, indigenous women are especially at risk. Women are also more vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation, trafficking and other types of violence.
  2. Women lack a seat at the table: Decision-making can either make or break women’s livelihoods, health, communities and futures. Particularly in developing countries, women are most vulnerable to the effects of neoliberal economic policies. Research shows women’s participation in decision-making leads to better outcomes for everyone. Yet, the voices, participation and leadership of women collectively organising for their rights in supply chains and women human rights defenders are actively suppressed.
  3. Women work more, but are paid less: They tend to earn less, have fewer savings and bear the burden of unpaid care work and domestic work. They are also more likely to work in the informal sector due to often needing flexible work to fit around their care responsibilities and a lack of access to better jobs and opportunities. This poverty trap leaves them exposed to violence, exploitation, forced labour and other forms of modern slavery. In the formal sector, women generally receive lower wages, fewer promotions and are underrepresented in decision-making.
  4. Gender justice is central to climate justice: In the midst of a climate crisis, policies holding businesses accountable for exploiting the environment and contributing to rising greenhouse gas emissions are long overdue. Women and girls are at the heart of climate justice, including in their fundamental role as environmental defenders. They are also key to building climate resilience. Moreover, the takeover of natural resources and land grabbing by corporations in mining and extractive industries hits women the hardest due to their roles of managing food, water, energy needs and care needs. By impeding women’s access to essential resources, they thereby impact their livelihoods, health and safety.
  5. Real guarantees for justice are the need of the hour: We know that women, gender-diverse people and marginalised communities pay the highest price when corporations violate human rights. It is high time the rights of people experiencing intersecting vulnerabilities – be it people of colour, Indigenous communities or those living in conflict – are protected. Corporate abuse disproportionately impacts several groups, including LGBTQIA+ people and persons with disabilities. A strong human rights framework will translate into real, actionable regulations and accessible remedies.

Views from a feminist lens

How could a feminist binding treaty help further these goals? We advocate for the Binding Treaty framework to prioritise non-discrimination and substantive equality. This looks like women from diverse backgrounds and communities being respected, heard and included. Rather than being positioned retrospectively as passive victims of human rights violations, they need to be at the centre of developing policies and regulations for businesses.

Further, protections and remedies need to be specific in addressing systemic and structural inequalities, compounded over the years. The actions of businesses and the lack of comprehensive and specific regulation of these impacts have caused and aggravated such discrimination. The Treaty process presents an opportunity for States to reaffirm the primacy of human rights and the safeguarding of their human rights obligations.

Gender analysis is critical to acknowledge and account for these differential impacts of business activities on people with intersecting identities. Our feminist analysis supports a vision of socio-economic justice for all, through concrete steps towards the long-delayed regulation of business activities. Measures for accountability must include human rights, as well as the protection of the environment.

If the Binding Treaty is to really make a difference, it should consider the specific challenges faced by women, gender-diverse people and their communities in the face of corporate abuses. In doing so, it must also engage their leadership in defending human rights and the environment and achieving social transformation. Now, more than ever, we need a feminist Binding Treaty that holds businesses accountable, and therein, puts people before profit.

By Feminists for a Binding Treaty, a coalition of over 30 human rights organisations, representing a large and diverse network of women’s lived experiences, shared analysis and expertise from around the world in the process for a Binding Treaty. #Feminists4BindingTreaty.

More on the Binding Treaty

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Together with Centre for Applied Legal Studies, The International Commission of Jurists, Justica Ambiental, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, we convened a series of three webinars in July, August and September 2023 to foster debate around critical issues in the development of the Binding Treaty. Watch the recordings here.

UN Intergovernmental Working Group releases updated draft of legally binding instrument on business and human rights

An updated draft of the legally binding instrument was released in July 2023 ahead of the ninth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.

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