Since our creation in 1919 and the gathering of our founding mothers in 1915 to protest the First World War and call for peace, WILPF has identified economic injustice and competition for economic resources as a root causes of conflict. This was the case with the First World War, which had been fought over the control of territories of oil wells and steel industries. WILPF’s Manifesto of 1924 also included a determination for a New International Order based on feminist principles that would: “bring about the organisation of economic life, not for individual or class profit, but for the highest possible development of every human being.”

Emily Greene Balch, co-founder of WILPF and Nobel Peace Prize winner, also foresaw in her address to the 1924 WILPF Congress the risks of governments’ capture by transnational corporate and economic interests, as well as their alignment with nationalist policies where “each hand washes the other”. She noted: “There is now coming on a new phase of the development of economic independence, the phase of internationalism in business and finance. We might suppose that this internationalism would make for peace. If it does not, I believe the reason is not that it is international. (…) What I believe to be the dangerous peculiarity in the situation is the alliance between business in pursuit of profit, and nationalist policies in pursuit of power. The most extreme case (…) is that of businesses, which deal with sources of war materials or which other profit by war (…).”

100 years later, the struggle continues

Today, WILPF still pursues the vision of our foremothers of economic and social justice for all. We analyse and denounce the unjust effects of neoliberal economic policies and of corporations on human rights, particularly on women’s rights. We also continue to raise how corporate activities and unjust economic policies can lay the ground for poverty, inequality leading to social conflicts or even war. One of our core tenants also continues to be to denounce war profiteering, particularly the arms trade, whether by arms companies or States.

This work builds on the collective strength of our movement through localised and feminist analysis of these issues. For instance, WILPF continues to be at the forefront in pushing for the arms trade to be recognised by the UN as a human rights issue. We also denounce the impacts of austerity measures on women and persons in marginalised situations, as we have done this year in the CEDAW Committee’s review of the UK. We have urged attention to the human rights impacts of mining on women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Towards accountability of corporations?

Building on WILPF’s long-standing experience of engaging and advocating at the United Nations and our human rights expertise, since 2015 we have been campaigning with civil society allies for the adoption of an international treaty that would create obligations for States to prevent human rights abuses by corporations(generally referred to as the “Binding Treaty”) and to create mechanisms to ensure effective access to justice for victims. Our message since the beginning of this process has been to ensure the meaningful participation of women in the process, gender analysis in developing the treaty and conflict-sensitivity. This builds on the approach taken by WILPF in other international treaty negotiations such as the Arms Trade Treaty or the ban on nuclear weapons.

Working in feminist solidarity with other organisations  continues to drive our actions. This is why we since 2016 have been actively involved with the feminist coalition #Feminists4bindingtreaty. This coalition is composed of women’s and human rights organisations, and social movementsacross regions working to achieve a gender-responsive treaty on corporations and human rights. Our key demands continue to be to ensure that corporations’ impacts on women be fully taken into account, access to justice for affected women and the meaningful participation of women in the process. In order to draw the attention of States to this issue, in 2017 we developed a written advocacy brief jointly with 13 other NGOs, which focuses on three key areas: mandatory gender impact assessments of the impacts on human rights of business operations; gender sensitive justice and remedy mechanisms for business-related violations; and ensuring respect, protection and an enabling environment for human rights defenders, with specific attention to the specific needs of women human rights defenders. Credits: AWID

As the negotiations of this treaty continued at the UN in October 2019, WILPF was actively involved in technical analysis of the draft text of the treaty, as well as in feminist collective mobilisation and advocacy at the UN and with States. Our demands on the draft text this year focused on:

  • strengthening progressive gender-related provisions,
  • ensuring that a wide range of companies be covered to ensure accountability,
  • reinforcing mechanisms for meaningful consultation and participation of women and affected groups, including indigenous peoples in decisions on corporate projects,
  • placing strict preventative mechanisms on business activities in conflict-affected areas and forbidding such activities where the risks are too high,
  • strengthening the obligations of States to respect human rights including in their own economic activities with businesses, and
  • ensuring gender-sensitive mechanisms of access to justice.

These statements drew from the legal analysis developed by WILPF together with members of the #Feminists4bindingtreaty.

You can learn more on these issues by reading the statements made by WILPF during the negotiations, which you can find under our advocacy documents. 

WILPF will continue to work with partners to ensure that feminist demands are reflected fully into the next draft treaty.

Learn more about our feminist mobilisation for this treaty by following us on Twitter at #Feminists4BindingTreaty.