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29 Oct 2021

European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ)

UN treaty negotiations: It all comes down to political will

The UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights have been both used and misused this week. A reminder: cloning them will not be sufficient to protect human rights and the environment from corporate abuse, and to deliver justice for people globally…

In discussions about applicable law, member states barely intervened. Brazil expressed reservations about giving victims the possibility to request their preferred law of application within the parameters established by the treaty. The US criticized the broad application of foreign law in domestic forums for increasing ambiguity. Egypt added that applicable law should be subject to the general principle of conflict of laws and jurisdiction.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation submitted an insertion of the law where the victim is domiciled. NGOs argued that the choice of law should be the one that is most protective to the victim.

On the issue of mutual legal assistance and international cooperation, only a few delegations took the floor…

… Brazil, Panama, Egypt, Pakistan and Iran opposed … the effect of the treaty on trade and investment agreements, arguing they do not wish to sign on to a text that establishes a hierarchy between different branches of international law.

Regarding institutional arrangements, Brazil challenged the need for a permanent structure to oversee the instrument. Palestine, Egypt and Namibia objected. The US argued that a new treaty body will require a UN budget, so it needs careful consideration.

Panama argued that the committee should not be limited to human rights and public international law experts, but include individuals knowledgeable in environmental law, labor law, trade etc.

Civil society organisations called for strengthening the mandate and powers of the committee as a compliance monitoring mechanism. The implementation of the treaty should not rest too heavily on the capacity and willingness of member states.

The session ended with the promise of further consultations and the formation of a working group called ‘Friends of the chair’ to build support and agreement. However, nothing was said of the next draft treaty text.

The cherry on the cake was the inclusion of consultations with business in the final report of the session. Businesses can meet with governments in Davos for the World Economic Forum, as well as at the UN Business and Human Rights Forum. Internal UN rules classify who can participate at the negotiation sessions, such as the International Organization of Employers and the International Chamber of Commerce. But at a summit where rules for business are under discussion, member states should ensure that all necessary safeguards are in place, so that actors with commercial interests do not hijack the process.

What the text and process need most going forward is political commitment from all member states, including the EU.


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