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Citizens demand the EU stops stalling on a treaty to ensure that businesses respect human rights

This week saw the publication of the landmark revised draft of a UN treaty which aims to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and close existing gaps in access to justice for victims.

A coalition of European civil society groups welcomes the publication of the revised draft UN Treaty on business and human rights and calls on the EU to conduct a thorough analysis of it. This is particularly important as the revised draft addresses many of the EU’s previous concerns, by building on the existing UN Principles on Business and Human Rights and defining which business activities should be covered.  A new analysis should build the basis for a determined, proactive EU engagement in the upcoming 5th session, taking place in October 2019 in Geneva.

The undersigned therefore urge the EU and its Member States to analyse the content of the revised draft and work in a transparent, inclusive process. This includes sharing their legal analysis, consulting civil society groups and working towards preparing the EU’s participation in the formal negotiation session. 

Communities have struggled for decades against corporate abuses – such as environmental damage, landgrabs, discrimination and harassment, or appalling working conditions in the bottom of global value chains. Facing many barriers to justice, victims struggle to hold corporations accountable, and often experience threats, intimidation and violence when they try to do so – with women facing particular gender-based rights violations.

The ongoing process for a UN Treaty is a historic opportunity to address the fragmentation of international law and change the current asymmetry of power between people, the planet and corporations, by regulating business activities in international human rights law. Regrettably, the EU has so far engaged reluctantly in this important international process, despite numerous calls from the European Parliament and from over 580,000 European citizens that it should do so.

As the world’s largest economy and trading block, the EU has a crucial role to play with regards to holding its businesses accountable. The lack of substantive EU engagement in the UN Treaty process is in stark contrast with the EU’s strong push for the expansion and enforcement of investor rights in bilateral agreements. Rather than further prioritising corporate interests over people’s rights and the environment, the EU should invest that level of effort and engagement for protection against harmful business activities. We need the EU’s political commitment to address the issue of corporate impunity for human rights abuses.

Should the EU fail to organise a joint position on the UN Treaty, Member States must fulfill their responsibility, speak up during the negotiations and bring their experience and perspectives to the international discussion. 

The undersigned call on the EU to live up to its commitments to champion human rights and gender equality and accordingly negotiate with other countries, to ensure that the treaty will adequately serve to protect the women and men suffering from business-related abuses, and to grant them appropriate remedy for harms caused. We are ready to support our government delegations, the European Commission, parliamentarians and MEPs in this historic task.

  • ActionAid International
  • CAFOD (England & Wales)
  • CCFD-Terre Solidaire (France)
  • Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)
  • CIDSE - International family of Catholic social justice organisations
  • Clean Clothes Campaign International Office
  • Commission Justice et Paix Belgique
  • Ekumenická akademie (Czech Republic)
  • FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  • Friends of the Earth Finland
  • Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND)
  • Global Policy Forum
  • Latinamerikagrupperna/Solidaridad Suecia-América Latina (SAL)/Solidarity Sweden-Latin America
  • Mani Tese (Italy)
  • NaZemi (Czech Republic)
  • Sherpa
  • SÜDWIND-Institute
  • TROCA - Plataforma por um Comércio Internacional Justo
  • Trócaire
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ActionAid in Brussels ActionAid's office in Brussels is seeking to ensure that European Union (EU) domestic and external policies contribute to human rights and sustainable development in the Global South. We currently engage around EU domestic and external policies on: Private sector’s role in EU development policy and responsible business conduct Tax justice and inequality Agroecology and land rights  Rules for the financial sector You can see our latest work with the European Union here, including this joint statement on the COVID-19 crisis which accompanies a set of recommendations from NGOs in February 2020 on Making the European Green Deal work for International Partnerships. As NGOs working on climate, environment, social justice and sustainable development issues, we stand in solidarity with local communities, vulnerable groups and those on the frontlines of the pandemic in partner countries. Solidarity, transparency, inclusiveness, and equity must guide the EU’s response at all stages. In the short term, the priority with partner countries must be to address the health crisis, immediate humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts on livelihoods, and the right to food. The EU should free up maximal emergency and concessional finance that doesn’t exacerbate existing debt vulnerabilities, in the form of budget support and direct transfers to national response plans, support measures to tackle liquidity pressures, and debt relief. In the medium to long term, an economic crisis in the Global South could push hundreds of millions more into poverty. The EU should ensure support to recovery in partner countries integrates climate and biodiversity objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals, tackles social inequalities, strengthens access to natural resources, and supports public services. Some of our relevant publications include: Our recent open letter, signed by several civil society organisations, calling for a Europe that cares for all. This letter calling for an end to gag lawsuits in Europe - protecting democracy and fundamental rights, signed by 119 organisations. This paper on making the European Green Deal work for international partnerships A call for Less and better meat, dairy and eggs in the Farm to Fork Strategy and a letter to the European Commission on the Farm to Fork strategy to achieve sustainable food systems A call for EU human rights and environmental due diligence legislation An ActionAid & Global Witness briefing on investors and sustainability Collect more – and more fairly? A briefing paper about the European Commission’s support for Domestic Resource Mobilisation in developing countries A call for action to ensure strong regulation of the financial sector to avoid environmental, social and governance risks A briefing paper about removing barriers to access of justice for victims of business-related human rights violations A framework for analysing "tax spillovers" A report called Stemming the Spills which provides a guiding framework for national tax spillover analyses A report showing that the US and EU owe more than half the cost of repairing future damage caused by climate disasters Analysis of the EFSD Investment Window on Sustainable and Inclusive Cities NGO recommendations on Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Entrepreneurs and Agribusiness Investment Window A demand that the EU stops stalling on a treaty to ensure that businesses respect human rights A report on NGO recommendations for the EU Sustainable Finance Action Plan Joint CSO Recommendations on the European External Investment Plan A paper on the role of the EU in ensuring global tax justice An analysis of pitfalls and potentials of the role of bioenergy in the EU climate and energy policy post 2020 A mid-term review of the Capital Markets Union (CMU) Our work is co-funded by the European Union. These contents are the sole responsibility of ActionAid and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.