Revealed : How the EU sides with transnational corporations over human rights at the UN

Monday October 15th 2018 – More than 100 international organisations and social movements are coming together in Geneva today to campaign for a UN treaty to hold transnational corporations (TNCs) accountable for their human rights violations. New research by Amis de la Terre/Friends of the Earth France, CETIM, Observatoire des multinationales and the Transnational Institute (TNI) reveals EU obstruction to the process. It shows how the European Union uses the same arguments as corporate lobbies, stubbornly defending ineffective voluntary guidelines. The report also includes a collection of case studies that contradict through concrete facts the discourses describing European companies as “green” and “responsible”.

These case studies show there is an urgent need for a binding international treaty to address the gaps in national and international legislation and confront the complex legal structures of transnational corporations in order to make parent and outsourcing companies accountable for their operations around the globe.

This week the fourth session of the intergovernmental working group mandated to elaborate a binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights is taking place. States will negotiate on the basis of a “Zero draft” text that was released this summer.

For the past four years, the EU has been obstructing the process towards the treaty. Among other things, the EU has demanded that businesses participate in the negotiations, following a trend at the UN and in Brussels to legitimise participation of the private sector and invite corporations to “co-write” regulations that would apply to them.

According to Juliette Renaud, from Amis de la Terre/Friends of the Earth France, “The EU is merely parroting international corporate lobby groups such as the International Chamber of Commerce or the International Organisation of Employers, in this UN working group - with the same arguments and sometimes the very same words. The recent adoption of the French law on duty of vigilance, which was delayed and weakened by fierce opposition from the private sector, proves that business lobbies will do anything to weaken the ambition of the future treaty and derail the negotiations. Measures should be taken to protect the UN process from harmful corporate influence !”.

Raffaele Morgantini, from CETIM, points out that "the lobbying of the private sector has always played a central role against the attempts to develop binding legal standards on TNCs, which is seen as a threat to their commercial interests and to profit maximisation. Thus, this phenomenon is now an integral part of the United Nations system. The strategy employed by TNCs and theirs lobbies can be divided into two main components : the delegitimization of the process for the treaty and the use of pressure, blackmail and/or threats against States. We must oppose this destructive trend and take back control of the United Nations system : the future of democracy and social justice is at stake."

Mónica Vargas, from the Transnational Institute (TNI), commented that “A robust Binding Treaty on TNCs with respect to Human Rights will be a game-changer in the arena of International human rights law. The negotiations on the Treaty text beginning this week in Geneva will open a ground breaking roadmap – marking an end to ineffective voluntary corporate self-regulation and corporate capture of government policy space. The case studies of European TNCs in this report show how corporate impunity currently prevails and results in denial of justice to affected communities. The time has come to act decisively to end corporate capture and this is our Call to EU member states and all member states of the UN”.

This report is the first major one to be initiated by the newly established ENCO (European Network of Corporate Observatories) network. "This publication would not have been possible without the research and contributions from many civil society and media organisations from Europe and the global South", says Olivier Petitjean, from Observatoire des multinationales. "This type of collaboration is critical to debunk corporate whitewashing and bring the perspectives of affected communities, workers and European citizens to the debate, which EU official representatives glaringly fail to do."

Press contacts :

  • Juliette Renaud, Amis de la Terre/Friends of the Earth France : +33 6 37 65 56 40 – juliette.renaud@amisdelaterre.org (English, French, Spanish)
  • Raffaele Morgantini, CETIM : +41 796 606 514 - contact@cetim.ch (English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese)
  • Mónica Vargas, TNI : +34 662 02 64 97 m.vargas@tni.org (English, Spanish, French)
  • Olivier Petitjean, Observatoire des multinationales : opetitjean@multinationales.org (English, French)

Note :

(1) The report « The EU and the corporate impunity nexus - Building the UN binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights » is available here.

Rapport intégral disponible également en français ici.

This report is based on contributions from a large range of organisations and experts from across Europe and the Global South, and was facilitated by the ENCO (European Network of Corporate Observatories) network, a newly-established collaboration of European media and civil society organisations to investigate corporate power.

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