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Regulating the Work of Transnational Corporations

25 June 2014

This session of the Human Rights Council has seen various discussions surrounding the impact of business on human rights.

A Binding Instrument?

Ecuador, now alongside South Africa, presented a draft resolution on the creation of a legally binding instrument (a treaty) to regulate the work of transnational corporations and other businesses.

During the informal discussions, Member States have been very divided: some delegations, such as the EU and Norway, have unsurprisingly opposed the initiative, stating that the resolution would wipe away years of work that led to the creation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework (Ruggie Guiding Principles). The delegation of the USA, although not present at the discussions, has expressed its concern at the interactive dialogue with the Working Group, saying that a possible new treaty would be too lengthy because every country has different economic models and businesses and a one size-fits-all instrument cannot account for these differences.

In reality, being at a period of elaboration of a new treaty, does not mean that Ruggie Guiding Principles would not apply, but rather it would strengthen them. Of course even during the negotiations States will want to show their advances so far through implementation of Ruggy Principles. Once a treaty were to be adopted, States who do not wish to ratify could still follow the Ruggy Principles, which may become a more attractive alternative option. Having a binding treaty will mean that constant encouragement will be there for States to join and provide clear mechanisms of accountability when human rights violations are perpetrated by Transnational Companies.

The Latin American States have indeed surprised us, with Members such as Argentina and Guatemala not providing their support to the prospect of a binding instrument.

On the other side, States such as Cuba, Namibia, Pakistan and Brazil are supporting Ecuador, arguing that the two resolutions are complementary and that the existing Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are not enough to limit human rights violations, mainly because they are not binding.

Towards a Corporate Social Accountability

WILPF and the majority of civil society representatives at this session are very clearly supporting Ecuador’s initiative.

As you can see from this statement written by WILPF USA and WILPF Nigeria, TNCs are responsible for grave human rights abuses with no clear mechanism to ensure accountability. They take advantage of cheap labour of female workers, who are typically childless, single, uneducated, unskilled and thus seen as easier to control and less likely to demand labour rights.

Further, the unregulated exploitation of land and resources causes communities dependent on their land to be displaced. WILPF Nigeria has highlighted the example of Delta Niger, where women have been forced to leave their lands and have become sex workers as a last resort, solicited by TNC staff and military personnel.

This case was a particularly relevant topic during the last informal discussion, where several delegations pushed for the inclusion of “other businesses” in the title of the resolution. This means that private military and security companies (PMSCs) should also be regulated in this possible new instrument as they also commit human rights violations, especially sexual violence against women.

Ensuring accountability for human rights violations in peace-keeping operations is an issue that WILPF has been trying to get on the agenda for a while, so we are glad that some Member States have raised the importance of this issue.

Have a look at our Paths to Justice project to learn more!

At this point, it is difficult to predict what will happen as several Member States have not voice their opinions during the discussions. We hope that the resolution passes and more importantly, that it actually contributes to a radical change of the policies of transnational companies.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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