The ICJ today welcomed the significant steps forward taken by the UN Human Rights Council aimed to develop and strengthen the protection of people from corporate human rights abuses around the world.
In separate resolutions, the Human Rights Council decided to launch a process to elaborate a treaty on business and human rights and also to act to strengthen the means of implementation by both States and businesses of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
While appreciative of these developments, the ICJ emphasized the need to bridge divisions that appear to have deepened among States and to work to ensure that a future treaty will cover all major businesses enterprises, not only those with a transnational element.
On Thursday, the Council adopted a resolution establishing an Intergovernmental Working Group to start a process of drafting treaty in the field of business and human rights.
The ICJ and many other human rights proponents have long affirmed the need for a new legally binding instrument to ensure legal accountability of business enterprises and access to justice for victims of human rights abuses involving businesses.
The ICJ also considers that a treaty will set common global standards backed by legal obligations for States to use the force of the rule of law to ensure human rights compliant corporate conduct.
Today, Friday, the Council adopted a second resolution, this time strengthening the implementation of the existing Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The new resolution promotes National Action Plans, a UN Fund for capacity building and stresses the need to focus on access to justice for victims of business corporations’ abuses.
The ICJ considers the two resolutions to be complementary.
It will work towards the development of an effective treaty as well continuing to support the process of implementation of the non-legally-binding Guiding Principles.
“The two resolutions are important steps ahead”, said Carlos Lopez, Senior Legal Adviser leading the Business and Human Rights Programme at the ICJ. “The elaboration of a new treaty should be seized upon by all States as an opportunity to fill the serious gaps in accountability and access to remedies for victims of human rights abuses involving businesses.”
Amidst a charged political atmosphere at the Council, the decision to initiate the treaty-making process was taken by a vote rather than by consensus, with 20 voting in favour, 14 against, and 13 abstaining.
The ICJ regrets that negotiations among States failed to reach consensus or wider agreement and that the result was a highly divisive vote.
It will be crucial for all States and civil society members who want to see an effective treaty serve the promotion and protection of human rights to adopt a rigorously constructive approach and to make every possible effort to reach out to those States who have indicated they do not support the process that has been initiated, the ICJ says.
The ICJ is concerned that the resolution to establish the treaty process includes language that seeks an exclusive focus on transnational business in any future treaty.
The ICJ will continue to work for a treaty that covers all major businesses, national or international.
Victims’ access to justice should not depend on whether or not a business happens to cross national boundaries, the organization adds.
Carlos Lopez, Senior Legal Adviser, ICJ Business and Human Rights Programme, t +41 22 979 3816, carlos.lopez(a)icj.org