EU Govts. must listen to thousands of European citizens asking them to be actively involved in business & human rights treaty process

Aisha Dodwell, Global Justice Now

Credit: Jacob V Joyce

This blog is part of the debate blog series on the proposed treaty and its complementarity with the UN Guiding Principles. We believe that an inclusive and open debate is crucial to make sure these initiatives deliver for everyone, and that the business & human rights movement continues its 'unity in diversity'.

This week, a petition from over 90,000 European citizens will be delivered to decision makers across the continent.  These tens of thousands of signatures are demanding that EU leaders take part in the upcoming UN Human Rights Council's session on establishing an international binding treaty that will end the impunity enjoyed by transnational corporations once and for all.    

The fact that so many people have been motivated by the possibility of controlling corporations shows that many are fed up living in a world where the power of corporations has reached a level never before seen in human history. Many have resources so large that they dwarf those of states.  Of the 100 wealthiest economic entities in the world today, 69 are now corporations and only 31 countries.*  This is up from 63 to 37 a year ago.

Here in the UK, we see corporate power play out through ever more functions of society being handed over to for-profit private companies.  Most big infrastructure now lies in the hands of a tiny plutocratic elite, the running of schools and health services are gradually being taken over by multinationals, and private security firms carry out ever more police and border-control services.  Meanwhile, our government is looking to tie us in to trade deals like Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that establish parallel judicial systems allowing corporations access to their own forms of justice via shady corporate tribunals only accessible to the rich.

The power of corporations is so great within our society that they have undermined the idea that there is any other way to run society.  We are all too familiar with hearing about the threat of ‘losing corporate investment’ or companies ‘taking their business somewhere else’ as if the government’s number one task is to attract corporate investment.

From Sports Direct being exposed for its slave-like working conditions to BP’s oil spill devastating people’s homes, it is these almost daily stories of corporations violating people’s rights that has got so many fed up.  

What this treaty offers is the idea that there is another way to organise society. It offers the possibility of withdrawing the privileges that corporations have gained in recent decades.  The treaty offers an opportunity to hold corporations to account and ensure that they are not above the law, inspiring the idea that power can be taken back by people.

In order to realise this possibility, we have to make sure that the treaty remains absolutely binding, we must ensure that corporations are not allowed to turn this into a voluntary initiative.  We need the treaty to have enforceable laws that oblige all governments to hold their corporations to account for their impacts on people and the planet, wherever in the world they operate.  The treaty will also need to establish the personal legal responsibility of company executives, managers and directors in order to ensure that individuals are held accountable for their decisions and the resulting crimes of their companies.

This is what we want to see our government discuss at the October talks.  Well known for its cosy relationship with corporations, however, the UK has so far refused to take part in this UN treaty process.  We are hoping that they listen to the thousands of people who want to see their government make the most of this opportunity to provide genuine protection for the victims of human rights abuses committed by multinational corporations.

* These figures have been taken from a direct comparison of the annual revenue of corporations and the annual revenue of countries. Sources: CIA World Factbook 2015 and Fortune Global 500.