Business Weighs in on UN Treaty Process on Business and Human Rights

Photo credit: UN, Pierre Albouy
Photo credit: UN, Pierre Albouy

As the United Nations Human Rights Council begins work on a legally binding treaty aimed at regulating transnational enterprises with respect to human rights, USCIB’s global network published a position paper representing the views of international business on the UN treaty process.

Jointly written by the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Organization of Employers, the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the paper argues, among other things, that the UN treaty process must not undermine the ongoing implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, that the process must be inclusive of all stakeholders and that the treaty should address all companies, not just multinationals.

As one of the only trade associations with membership in three of the four organizations that drafted the position paper, USCIB was instrumental in working with the IOE to draft the document, and was decisive in the ICC and BIAC decisions to support the final version.

The global business community has expressed concern that the proposed UN treaty process may hinder the implementation of the UN’s Guiding Principles, which were developed over the eight year mandate of former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights John Ruggie, and have very quickly become the authoritative international framework on the issue. The Guiding Principles’ “protect, respect, remedy” established a framework that reaffirmed states’ obligations under international law to protect human rights, while businesses, regardless of size or ownership structure, are responsible for respecting these rights throughout their operations. The principles also establish that both states and corporations share the task of ensuring access to effective remedies for human rights victims.

“We’ve seen tremendous uptake of the UN Guiding Principles in a very short period of time, but not enough implementation, particularly on the National Action Plans that states have been tasked with creating.  The treaty process will prove most effective if it reinforces the ’protect-respect-remedy’ framework with further international legal weight, creating more pressure on states take to their duty to protect more seriously, which includes supporting and encouraging business enterprises’ efforts to respect human rights.  ,” said USCIB Vice President Ariel Meyerstein. “The treaty also provides an opportunity to strengthen the rule of law and access to remedy through national courts where harms occur. That will ultimately provide redress for more victims more efficiently than other proposed means of ensuring access to remedy, which in effect may only offer hope to victims of the most heinous violations. .”

Last year, the UN Human Rights Council voted in favor of a proposal sponsored by Ecuador and South Africa to negotiate a binding treaty on business and human rights. On July 6, the Intergovernmental Working Group (IWG) on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights, which will develop the treaty, will hold the first of several annual meetings. The position of the United States – which voted against the treaty last year – remains not to participate in the IWG. The IOE will participate in the IWG and will also host a side event to  provide business input.

Other positions by business on the UN Treaty Process include:

  • The treaty should contribute to the effective implementation of UN Guiding Principles by requiring states to draft National Action Plans.
  • The treaty’s scope of must be limited to business and human rights, not other issues such as climate change.
  • The treaty must not shift the responsibility from the entity perpetrating a human rights violation to the enterprise linked in some way to that entity, a principle well-established by both the UN Guiding Principles and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
  • To strengthen national implementation, the treaty should require governments to report back to the UN supervisory machinery about measures taken.

Read the position paper: “UN Treaty Process on Business and Human Rights: Initial Observations by the International Business Community on a Way Forward.”


Staff Contact:   Gabriella Rigg Herzog

VP, Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs
Tel: 212.703.5056

Gabriella Rigg Herzog leads USCIB policy and programs on corporate responsibility, international labor standards and corporate governance. She manages USCIB engagement with its affiliated organizations, U.S. government agencies, and United Nations agencies on international corporate responsibility principles, codes of conduct and multi-stakeholder initiatives, as well as international and transnational regulatory activities on labor and employment policies, sustainable development and corporate governance.
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