‘The World needs UN to end human rights abuses with impunity’

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IndustriALL Global Union has said it is committed to a United Nations binding instrument on business and human rights to end impunity for corporate human rights abuses.

It, however, noted that recent negotiations have not brought the desired result due to obstruction by employers’ organisations and some governments.

Negotiations on the legally binding instrument were held in Geneva last week.

If adopted, the instrument will make companies legally liable for human rights abuses in their supply chains, and represent an important step in establishing the accountability of corporations in international law.

Before the negotiations, global unions welcomed the release of the draft text, while stressing that worker’s rights are human rights. Unions welcomed the integration of a gender perspective, as well as measures for addressing accountability gaps in the structures of multinationals.

Unions criticised the instrument for not talking explicitly about workers’ human rights, and for not recognizing trade unionists as human rights defenders, or unions as an integral part of human rights due diligence processes.

During the negotiations, the International Organization of Employers and other business lobby groups found fault with every draft provision, and attempted to obstruct the process.

The U.S. government rejected the process, the UK challenged the content of the draft text, and the EU was unable to achieve a negotiating mandate from its member states. This round of negotiations concluded without significant developments, and will continue next year.

Commenting on the negotiations, IndustriALL general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: “A shift is coming in the way the world sees corporate responsibility. This is long overdue. The need for this treaty has become even more acute during the COVID crisis, as workers have tirelessly kept global supply chains operating, often at great personal risk and without adequate protection, sick pay or security.”

Human rights campaigners, civil society groups and unions have long campaigned for changes to international and domestic law that would hold companies accountable for their actions in other jurisdictions. These campaigns are starting to bear fruit: at the domestic level, Switzerland will hold a referendum on corporate social responsibility in November 2020, while similar legislation is being proposed or has already passed in other countries.

Internationally, campaigners won an important victory at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2014, when the resolution was first adopted to develop the international legally binding instrument. Resolution 26/9 established an Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) to develop the details of that instrument in a series of negotiations. The sixth session of the IGWG was held in Geneva last week.

The UNHRC is made up of member states. Ecuador and South Africa proposed the 2014 resolution. Many Western governments voted against it. Progress is dependent on the negotiating positions of the member states. For this reason, unions believe that it is important to keep up the pressure on national governments, to prevent the draft text from being watered down.

Despite objections, a final report was adopted and the parties will move towards negotiations on the text. The IGWG will compile and distribute documents that address the issues raised in the negotiations by March 2021.

Valter Sanches concluded: “This instrument will set a new global benchmark for business and human rights. Employers’ organizations and governments, particularly in rich countries, are trying to undermine the process. We need to maintain the momentum to drive it forward.”

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