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Trade and corporate accountability

Trade agreements have the potential to either support or undermine human rights around the world. This page brings together the latest news and analysis related to international trade agreements and their impact on human rights.

The world’s economies are linked together by a complex web of trade and investment agreements. These range in scale from bilateral agreements to large multi-country free trade areas, to the World Trade Organisation.

Trade deals used to aim to eliminate of tariffs and expand market access for companies. However, deals agreed in recent years include expansive rules to protect the investments, profits, and intellectual property rights of global businesses. These rules often severely affect the freedom of countries to introduce standards and laws which may be beneficial to their people and environment.

80% of global trade happens within the value chains of multinational corporations, and these businesses exert a huge influence on trade rules. The prevailing economic system, built on the exploitation of low wages and insecure work, is created in part by trade deals which support a move towards a deregulated and liberalised global economy, placing power in the hands of corporations rather than governments, workers or communities.

This website section features resources and perspectives covering the overlap between trade agreements and corporate power and asks how trade agreements can be designed to best serve the public interest and support the realisation of human rights. This includes some of the biggest issues in global trade.

  • How ISDS clauses in trade agreements could undermine efforts to impose stronger human rights obligations on companies and to hold them accountable for human rights abuses
  • The Energy Charter Treaty – an international investment agreement that obstructs action to address the climate crisis

Find out more from other organisations

Trade Justice Movement

The UK civil society coalition calling for trade rules that work for people and planet

Transnational Institute

An international non-profit research and advocacy think tank promoting a just, democratic and sustainable world

International Trade Union Confederation

The global voice of the world's working people

Focus on the Global South

An activist think tank in Asia providing analysis and building alternatives for just social, economic and political change

Seattle to Brussels Network

A network of organisations challenging the corporate-driven trade agenda of European governments

Third World Network

An independent non-profit international research and advocacy organisation involved in issues relating to the World Trade Organisation, development, and North-South affairs.