ESCR-Net Calls for Stronger Provisions to Hold Corporations Accountable
ESCR-Net – International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has submitted remarks to the Chair-Rapporteur and UN Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, calling for a legally binding instrument to hold corporations accountable for their actions. The submission was coordinated by ESCR-Net’s Corporate Accountability Working Group, which brings together social movements, Indigenous Peoples’ groups, NGOs, and advocates from over 80 countries to fight corporate capture and challenge systemic corporate abuse.
The submission supports the UN process towards a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights. It urges all States to negotiate meaningfully and effectively for a legally binding instrument based on the third revised draft, considering textual suggestions presented by States in 2021. The third revised draft demands stronger provisions to hold corporations accountable, as articulated by people and communities affected by violations and abuses related to business activities.
ESCR-Net calls on States to act urgently to advance and adopt the legally binding instrument. The objective is to stop corporate capture, end corporate impunity and establish effective mechanisms to remedy and compensate communities and people particularly affected by transnational corporations. These include those operating in the extractive, financial, food, healthcare, and tech industries. Comprehensive attention must be given to the different and disproportionate impacts experienced by women in all their diversity, gender non-binary persons, rural communities, Indigenous Peoples, and other historically marginalized groups, as well as communities in contexts of conflict and occupation.
ESCR-Net emphasizes the importance of rejecting textual proposals that embolden colonial legacies. It is critical to stop corporate capture and reject capitalist agendas in negotiations that prioritize profit over people. Several States, including the United States of America, have defended corporate participation in treaty negotiations and even echoed their demands to weaken the text of the treaty. ESCR-Net strongly rejects the right of corporations to participate in the treaty process, as they have an irreconcilable conflict of interest when it comes to regulating and remediating their own human rights impacts.
The proposal also raises concerns about informal proposals provided by the Chair-Rapporteur on 6 October 2022, which threaten to backtrack the incremental progress made in the creation of a third legally binding instrument. ESCR-Net urges States not to promote or adopt any language that weakens the treaty, blurs legal obligations on parties, and removes specificity for important standards of legal liability and accountability to the benefit of corporate lobbyists and several demands of the Global North that can be associated with their colonial legacies.
Countries in the Global South face particular challenges in securing remedies for harm to their communities and environment by large transnational corporations often headquartered in the Global North. Global South governments are consequently stuck with such damages costs and other long-term consequences. ESCR-Net believes that there is an urgent need for all States to support the third revised draft of the legally binding instrument as a valuable starting point for negotiations and to push back against corporate capture of the process. Existing elements of legal liability in all contexts, extraterritoriality, and a provision on conflicts of interest are essential to stop corporate impunity.
After more than eight years of this process, ESCR-Net poses a critical question: if we do not work to advance a meaningful legally binding instrument now, then when? Now is the time to act. Human rights, our planet, and the environment cannot wait any longer, and we cannot allow corporate capture of our government decision-making processes to continue delaying the realization of our demands.