UN issues authoritative guidance on obligations of parties to Intl. Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights

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12 July 2017

Commentary: General Comment by UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights sheds welcome light on UN Guiding Principles

Author: Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, Reconnecting With Commonsense, and Gabriela Quijano of Amnesty Intl.

"Corporate accountability and access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses - the way forward!" 8 July 2017

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ General Comment on States Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Context of Business Activities... is critically important for governments when enacting their National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights... and for business[es] when deciding... their [human rights]... policies... [It] reminds States of their often-forgotten duties to hold companies legally to account when they abuse human rights... [and] highlights the importance of ensuring effective means of claiming reparations directly from corporate perpetrators...[The General Comment includes] clear calls for action for states party to the Covenant to ensure effective monitoring of corporate conduct and criminal, administrative and civil redress in case of abuse... The General Comment... raises concerns about the protection that company law extends to corporate shareholders in the form of the so-called “corporate veil”,... [and highlights] challenges for victims of corporate abuses...[including] the difficulty of accessing information and evidence,... lack of class action mechanisms when large numbers of people are affected by corporate abuses, lack of legal aid and financial support to fund cases, the difficulties in ensuring effective cross border judicial and law enforcement collaboration and the threat of defamation claims against those who raise concerns or highlight corporate abuses.

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29 June 2017

Corporate tax avoidance “inconsistent” with human rights, says UN treaty body

Author: Center for Economic and Social Rights

"Tax competition and corporate tax avoidance “inconsistent” with human rights, says UN treaty body", 28 Jun 2017

Last week...[the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] made its most definitive statement yet that corporate tax dodging – and the policies which encourage it – are incompatible with governments’ legal duties to guard against business-related human rights abuses, even when committed beyond their borders. This landmark development represents the latest signal that human rights protection bodies are increasingly poised to hold governments and companies to account for tax injustice.

...Combatting corporate tax abuse—which robs government coffers of billions every year—remains an under-explored yet crucial aspect of ensuring businesses respect human rights, as CESR [Center for Economic and Social Rights] has argued in various human rights and development fora. 

...[T]ax dodging via Switzerland by multinational copper firms operating in Zambia may amount to as much as $326 million annually, equivalent to about 60 percent of the country’s health budget...

This [General Comment] gives human rights and tax justice advocates more concrete standards to which countries and companies can be held accountable for the human rights consequences of their tax behavior.

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26 June 2017

New guidance by UN experts says protecting against corporate abuse, incl. against defenders, is an obligation of govts.

Author: Sarah M Brooks, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

"Business and Human Rights | UN experts say States should step up protections, including for defenders", 26 Jun 2017

[T]here has been a sharp spike in the public coverage of killings of defender working on land and the environment, often in the context of development projects and business operations. This is echoed by...[BHRRC]...:'Our database of attacks on defenders working on business and human rights, shows there were almost 500 attacks in 2015-2016. These figures underscore the dangers of pointing to market failures and uncovering abuses in global supply chains',... [W]idespread attention...has resulted in increasing dialogue with governments about the need to protect these defenders and their communities...UN [CESCR]...decided to develop policy guidance for States, in the form of a General Comment. ‘This is a great step toward normalising the idea that business abuses don’t happen in a vacuum. They are often facilitated by State action – or even inaction’, says Sarah M Brooks, who lead ISHR’s submission to the Committee for its discussion of business and human rights,...States who have signed the treaty must take steps to prevent human rights abuses by their companies, both at home and abroad, and to provide effective remedy to victims... Brooks adds: ‘The experts send a clear message that failures to act, or allowing the corporate sector to go it alone, are not just errors of judgement, but an abdication of governments' legal responsibilities’.

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26 June 2017

UN Committee reminds govts. of duty to establish remedies beyond natl. borders for adverse corporate human rights impacts

Author: UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

“Business and human rights: States’ duties don’t end at the national borders”, 23 Jun 2017

States should control corporations across national borders to protect communities from the negative impacts of their activities, UN human rights experts have said in an authoritative new guidance on the Obligations of States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in the context of business activities…

In practice, the Committee expects home States of transnational corporations to establish appropriate remedies, guaranteeing effective access to justice for victims of business-related human rights abuses when more than one country is involved.

In light of the practices revealed by the Panama Papers and the Bahamas Leaks, the General Comment emphasizes that States should ensure corporate strategies do not undermine their efforts to fully realize the rights set out in the Covenant…

The new General Comment sets out what States can and must do in order to ensure that companies do not violate rights such as the right to food, housing, health or work, which the States themselves are bound to respect...

“It also may be tempting for States to seek refuge behind the initiatives taken by the corporate sector, rather than adopting the appropriate regulatory and policy initiatives that they must adopt. Our General Comment seeks to recall their obligations under the Covenant and define the role they must assume in regulating corporate conduct.”

[Read the full General Comment here]

Read the General Comment here.

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