In June 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution sponsored by Ecuador and South Africa. This resolution established an Intergovernmental Working Group with the purpose of developing an international, legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.
In September 2017, the Intergovernmental Working Group released a document outlining the elements of the treaty. The first full draft of the treaty – known as the 'Zero Draft' – was published in July 2018.
Transnational corporations are both large and economically powerful. Their size and power combined with their motive to grow profits can often lead to negative consequences for the communities living in the places where they operate. In fact, corporations have a history of impacting on human rights and profiting from abuses in these countries, particularly in the Global South.
Until now, it has been incredibly difficult to hold these corporations accountable for their actions due to power imbalances that weaken institutional frameworks as well as gaps within legal frameworks which lend to abuse and impunity. Furthermore, the existing mechanisms that are available such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are voluntary and thus inadequate.
As part of our engagement within the process, CALS has made submissions to the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights and the Intergovernmental Working Group. We have also been involved in hosting indabas over the last few years in South Africa with the state, civil society, labour, business and communities on the treaty in order to help inform South Africa's position in treaty negotiations going forward.
Internationally, we have made presentations and hosted discussions at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and UN Human Rights Council session held by the Working Group, bringing together civil society, community organisations and government officials to discuss the treaty.
While the draft is negotiated at the United Nations before being finalised and adopted, CALS continues to raise awareness and build capacity in collaboration with the African Coalition on Corporate Accountability (ACCA) and other partner organisations. This is in order to ensure our advocacy for a treaty that responds to the concerns of the region and adequately protects the most affected and ensures they have access to fair and effective remedies.