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Side Events Place The Spotlight on Human Rights Abuses by Transnational Corporations and The Need for International Regulation

9 July 2015

As the intergovernmental working group (IGWG) on transnational corporations (TNCs) and human rights is meeting for the first time in Geneva this week, WILPF co-organised two side events at the United Nations to highlight the importance of this issue and give a voice to activists from affected communities around the world.

Testimonials of human rights abuses
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Pamela Palmater speaking about the rights of indigenous people in Canada at the side event on 6 July.

The first side event, which took place on Monday 6 July, focused on the impact of TNCs and other businesses on grassroots communities. “We are very happy to present a panel where women are in the majority. This is very rare at the UN,” moderator Ana Maria Suarez Franco from FIAN International said as the event started. The second side event, taking place the following day, also featured a gender-balanced panel that discussed the need for international regulation from the perspective of social movements.

The panels consisted of activists from a number of different countries who were able to give their testimonials of TNCs’ violations of human rights, most notably the right to life, the right to health and the right to safe food and water. Forced displacements, extrajudicial killings of activists and union leaders, and destruction of entire eco-systems were just a few examples of what they had witnessed in the TNCs’ ravaging hunt for profit.

Women from indigenous communities in Panama, India and Canada could also testify that the already marginalised communities often are the most affected. “We are in the second round of colonisation of indigenous people,” Pamela Palmater from Canada stated. The parallels with colonisation were further highlighted as many panellists emphasised the fact that most TNCs are based in the Global North, whereas the abuses are predominantly committed in the Global South.

Rise of sexual violence and corruption
Manuela Mesa, Vice President o WILPF Spain, addressed the issue of TNCs and sexual violence at the side event on 7 July.
Manuela Mesa, Vice President of WILPF Spain, addressed the issue of TNCs and sexual violence at the side event on 7 July.

During the discussions, several panellists also raised the issue of sexual violence. “Where we see corporate exploitation, we see a rise of sexual violence,” Jules Mbokani Mathe from the DRC said, pointing to a problem that is widespread in his country but by no means limited to it. Manuela Mesa, Vice President of WILPF Spain, also described how a Spanish company operating in Guatemala had used sexual violence and intimidation to stop women from protesting the company’s misconduct.

As the panellists showed by many examples, the State can far too rarely be counted on when these abuses take place. Across the world, TNCs are building their relations with governments and getting an ever-increasing influence over their decision-making. TNCs have also been reported to establish relations with public and private security and intelligence, as well as with paramilitary groups. Coupled with the fact that we live in a world where companies can make a profit from conflicts, the possibility of corruption is limitless.

Ending impunity

“Impunity is not just about the absence of punishment; it is when corporations can continue doing this legitimately,” said Dora Lucy Arias from the Colombian Colectivo de Abogados. All panellists stressed the need for the IGWG that is meeting in Geneva this week to work to establish a legally binding treaty with direct obligations for both TNCs and States, and that such an instrument must address the prevention, regulation and sanctioning of TNCs’ human rights abuses. As WILPF member Binalakshmi Nepram from the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace said to round off the discussion: “There has to be a way of limiting the way greed operates in this world.”

WILPF is following the IGWG’s negotiations closely. Stay tuned for our updates by following us on Facebook and Twitter and by subscribing to the Human Rights programme’s newsletter. Sign our petitions to call on governments to take action, and read our blog on the Week of Mobilisation to learn more about the background of this week’s events. #StopCorporateAbuse!

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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. 

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

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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.

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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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