A Business and Human Rights Treaty? We shouldn’t be afraid to frighten the horses

Author: Peter Frankental (Amnesty International UK) on Institute for Human Rights and Business, Published on: 10 June 2014

Three years after the UN Human Rights Council adopted the UNGPs, there is growing frustration at the slow pace of implementation...[I]t is fitting to have a far-reaching debate on the kind of binding mechanisms that are necessary to ensure companies operate to acceptable standards and the different pathways towards achieving this. The fact that the Ecuadorean government and others are helping to break the deafening silence on this issue is to be welcomed, even if there is much work to be done in defining the substance of such an approach...One avenue that needs to be pursued by governments is the lack of integration of human rights norms and standards into global rules governing trade and investment, which makes it more difficult to hold companies accountable...A UN treaty on business and human rights could have the effect of empowering states to protect and realise human rights in the face of economic activity...Greater corporate accountability for human rights could be pursued in different ways via a range of institutions and instruments. An overarching UN treaty is one such approach...Despite the furore provoked by Ecuador’s proposal, it provides a wake-up call for governments who should be doing much more to consider effective solutions to address the adverse human rights impacts of companies. Open, transparent and productive discussions on this are overdue.

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