Binding treaty

At the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, two resolutions were tabled for adoption by the Council.  The first is a resolution drafted by Ecuador and South Africa and signed also by Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. It was originally tabled on 19 June, then updated on 24 June. It directs "to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights."  The other is a resolution drafted by Norway and supported by 22 other countries from all regions. It was originally tabled on 12 June, then updated on 17 and 23 June.  It includes a request that the UN Working Group prepare a report considering, among other things, the benefits and limitations of legally binding instruments.

On 26 June, the UN Human Rights Council adopted Ecuador and South Africa’s resolution. The votes were: 20 in favour (Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, Vietnam), 14 against (Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, South Korea, Romania, the Former Yugoslavia, UK, USA) and 13 abstentions (Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, UAE). On 27 June, the Council adopted by consensus Norway's resolution.

UN Human Rights Council vote favor Ecuador resolution June 2014 photo credit CORE group

Human Rights Watch said: "There need to be stronger human rights rules for business, but the UN’s decision to move ahead with the development of an international treaty that only covers transnational corporations is compromised by the opposition of key governments and its narrow mandate. The UN’s decision is too narrow since it only focuses on transnational corporations and will not address national or other businesses that should also be required to respect human rights." ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group released a statement calling on governments at the Human Rights Council to ensure that all business enterprises, not just transnational corporations, are the subject of new normative international developments.

The International Organisation of Employers said in a statement that it "deeply regrets" that the adoption of the Ecuador resolution has broken the unanimous consensus on business and human rights achieved three years ago with the endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles; that the vote is a "genuine setback" to the efforts underway to improve human rights and access to remedy on the ground; and that the Human Rights Council has decided to return to "approaches which have failed in the past and which are diametrically opposed to the goal of quickly advancing the implementation" of the Guiding Principles.

"High Tide in Lake Geneva" our analysis of recents developments 


Needs and Options for a New International Instrument in the Field of Business and Human Rights Intl. Commission of Jurists 

In August 2013, at the Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights for Latin America and the Caribbean, and later at UN Human Rights Council 24th session in September 2013, the representative of Ecuador before the UN made a declaration regarding "Transnational Corporations and Human Rights". With this statement the government of Ecuador proposed a legally binding international instrument on business & human rights to be concluded within the UN system.  The instrument envisioned "would clarify the obligations of transnational corporations in the field of human rights" and "provide for the establishment of effective remedies for victims in cases where domestic jurisdiction is clearly unable to" provide them.  The declaration was supported by the African Group, the Arabic Group, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru.  Over a hundred regional and international human rights organizations and social movements welcomed the petition.  The action taken by the Ecuadorian government was ratified in Geneva at the 2nd Forum on Business and Human Rights on 3 and 4 December 2014.


On 28 January 2014, the former UN Special Representative on business & human rights, Professor John Ruggie released an issues brief in response to Ecuador's proposal for a legally binding instrument, and updates on the issue in May, June and July 2014.

A UN Business and Human Rights Treaty? An Issues Brief by John G. Ruggie, 28 Jan 2014
A UN Business and Human Rights Treaty Update, 1 May 2014
International Legalization in Business and Human Rights, 11 June 2014
"The Past as Prologue? A Moment of Truth for UN Business and Human Rights Treaty", 8 Jul 2014

"Does the World Need a Treaty on Business and Human Rights?" event by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre & Univ. of Notre Dame, 14 May 2014

Summary: "Does the World Need a Treaty on Business and Human Rights - Weighing the Pros and Cons", Notes of the Workshop and Public Debate by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 21 May 2014

Video of the event held in London on 14 May 2014:

Institute for Human Rights and Business commentaries series IHRB logo

A Business and Human Rights Treaty? More immediate actions would make a bigger difference
Salil Tripathi, Institute for Human Rights and Business, 26 June 2014 

A Business and Human Rights Treaty? International legalisation as precision tools
John Ruggie (Harvard Univ., former UN Special Representative on business & human rights) for Institute for Human Rights and Business, 13 June 2014

A Business and Human Rights Treaty? We shouldn't be afraid to frighten the horses, Peter Frankental (Amnesty Intl. UK), 10 June 2014

A Business and Human Rights Treaty? Why Activists Should be Worried, Mark Taylor (Fafo Institute for Applied Intl. Studies), 4 Jun 2014

A business and human rights treaty? Smart strategies are needed to close accountability gaps, John Morrison, Institute for Human Rights and Business, 3 Jun 2014

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