From 6 July to 10 July, representatives from States across the world gathered in Geneva for a week long first session of the intergovernmental working group (IGWG) towards a Treaty on Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises with regards to human rights. This was the start of a series of negotiations that will lead to a legally binding treaty framing the work of transnational companies and finally making them unable to violate human rights with impunity. WILPF attended this meeting to make sure this happens.

What WILPF did

WILPF submitted four statements to the IGWG in order to ensure that a gender perspective is duly taken in the elaboration of the treaty. We also highlighted that special attention must be given to linkages between corporations’ activities and armed conflicts and to the fact that corporations may violate human rights in contexts of instability or armed conflict.

We also supported that all human rights and that all companies (transnational and domestic) should be in the scope of the treaty in order to comprehensively address corporate responsibility. WILPF will continue to actively advocate in order to ensure that these aspects are taken up in the treaty.

In addition, we co-organised two side events at the United Nations on 6 and 7 July. The first one focused on the impact of transnational corporations and other businesses on grassroots communities, and the second one discussed the need for international regulation from the perspective of social movements. Read our blog “Side Events Place The Spotlight on Human Rights Abuses by Transnational Corporations and The Need for International Regulation” to learn more about these events.

Overall, a positive and historical outcome

Despite the EU’s attempt to block the work programme of the IGWG on the first day, civil society representatives, participating States and legal experts managed to engage in fruitful debates, while acknowledging differences of opinions and putting key issues upfront for discussion. The experts’ discussions clearly demonstrated the need for a treaty to overcome the existing voids under international human rights law impeding the sanction of corporate abuses and access to justice to victims.

The goal of the first two sessions (2015 and 2016) is to do a brainstorming and to test the different positions from States. We believe this session showed a great mobilisation from civil society organisations and the quality of their in-depth inputs and practical experiences enriched the democratic debate and concretely demonstrated the urgency of a binding treaty to prevent and remedy corporate human rights abuses.

Next session (2016) should bring a wide involvement of States and show a clear commitment to end abuses by corporations.

But, most Western States look the other way

Only nine out of the 28 EU Member States attended the discussions on the first day. Switzerland was present in the meeting as an observer and did not speak on substance. France also participated for the whole week but inexplicably remained silent. The US and Canada simply practiced the empty chair policy for the whole duration of the IGWG. The absence of wealthy countries home to the world’s largest transnational corporations is shameful and raises questions regarding states’ commitments to uphold human rights over business interests. Their involvement in the process and support to the treaty remains a major challenge for the future. WILPF will advocate in order to positively engage them in the next steps.

How you can be part of the action

Sign our petition! Many countries, in particular within the EU, have diametrically opposed being part of this process and have not attended the IGWG. In order to keep putting pressure on EU Member States to uphold their commitments to human rights, we have created petitions calling on the governments of the UK, the US, Italy, France, Germany and Spain to take positive action. Read our blog “Protecting human rights from transnational companies: WILPF’s petition” to learn more.