Press release: CIDSE’s position on the 6th IGWG of the UN Treaty on business and human rights
“By exposing the vulnerabilities of global supply chains and the people that make them work, the COVID-19 crisis has made the importance of the Business and Human Rights agenda even clearer. The crisis has shown in particular the urgency of stepping up efforts to ensure that states protect human rights in the context of business activities and that business respect human rights, including labour rights, in their operations”. This was the opening line of the European Union at the 6th session of the UN negotiations on a human rights treaty to regulate the conduct of corporations. Yet, for the following days, the European Union and its Member States fell short of this statement and failed to substantively input at the negotiations.
Under social distancing measures currently applied in the uncertain context of the global pandemic, CIDSE applauds the efforts of the UNHRC and the Chairperson of the intergovernmental working group to maintain these negotiations, which secured the advancement on the draft text of the Treaty. In the context of COVID-19, a substantial number of states were in the room, with others attending remotely. Likewise, a large number of civil society organisations and trade unions joined the discussions virtually with powerful and substantive interventions on the text.
CIDSE and our partners made strong calls for justice for affected people, strong liability in the light of the duty of corporations to respect human rights, ensuring human rights take precedence over trade and investment agreements, along with reinforced gender analysis and protection of human rights defenders.
At a side event “Digging deeper: Mining in Colombia and the urgent need for a UN Treaty”, Mónica López Pushaina, of the Wayuu indigenous community, gave testimony about the devastating impact of the Cerrejón mine in her community, including health effects, environmental damage and attacks on human rights defenders. She stressed how a UN Treaty could prevent such abuses and guarantee access to justice for impacted communities.
Brazil, China and Russia took the floor on numerous occasions to criticize substantial provisions of the Treaty, repeatedly putting foundational principles of international human rights law into question. Several States rose to the occasion to protect human rights and call for retaining and reinforcing essential provisions of the text under discussion.
Meanwhile, the EU and its Member States have been shamefully waiting on the side-lines: this behaviour has gone on for years, with various excuses and evading of responsibility. We have reached the sixth year of negotiations, and the EU has yet to substantively engage in negotiations, having only asked some clarification questions.
As the world’s largest economy and trading block, the EU should enforce the ethical operation of its corporations. “European citizens want to break free of the connection that exists between the products in their homes and the shocking stories of exploited labor and devastated ecosystems. They don’t want to be part of this exploitative system, whose worst repercussions always affect women more heavily and prevent indigenous populations from thriving”, said Josianne Gauthier, CIDSE Secretary General. Members of the European Parliament have adopted over 10 resolutions over the past few years in support of the Treaty negotiations. The EU’s absence is a denial of the will of European citizens, their representatives, the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (see their statement).
The EU has committed to a public consultation for the upcoming European law on Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence. Given this commitment, the EU must seek a mandate to negotiate, and its member States should fulfil their responsibility to substantively negotiate in the UN Treaty.