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25 Jan 2024

Paloma Muñoz Quick, BSR

Potential for a UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights to level the global playing field and strengthen corporate accountability, says BSR

Shutterstock (licensed)

"Leveling the Global Playing Field: A Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights", 25 January 2024

...Released in July 2023, the latest draft treaty centers the rights of victims to access remedy and requires governments to ensure companies respect human rights and undertake and publish human rights impact assessments on a regular basis. Legal liability extends to natural and legal persons and includes criminal, civil, and administrative liability.  

If approved, States that adopt the treaty would be required to transpose treaty commitments into domestic law, thereby making it binding on companies in their jurisdictions....

A soft law instrument, the UNGPs have provided a critical foundation for advancing the integration of human rights in core business and emerging regulations.

At BSR, we have seen a rise in the number of companies implementing the UNGPs as well as multi-stakeholder initiatives that incorporate them. 

Yet over twelve years since their adoption, gaps in business uptake remain... 

To date, the role of business in treaty discussions has been limited. While the exact implications of the treaty for business remain to be seen—binding treaty processes often take years, even decades—companies already conducting HRDD have every reason to support the development of a treaty that builds on the UNGPs and the best practices that have ensued...

To prepare for the eventual adoption of the treaty, companies are encouraged to: 

  1. Begin, or continue to, implement the UNGPs with rigor and heightened attention to ensuring access to effective remedy for victims of harms across global value chains;  
  2. Prepare for emerging regulation in ways that focus on the desired human rights outcomes of the regulation, not simply the letter of the law; 
  3. Seek to understand the substantive content of the draft treaty and how it could enhance company efforts to respect human rights globally, such as through more supportive public policy frameworks; and 
  4. Constructively and transparently engage in the UN process such that the treaty is founded upon a theory of change that achieves the desired outcome for people and draws upon practical experience...