The global business community voiced concern over last week’s vote by members of the United Nations Human Rights Council in favor of a proposal, put forward by Ecuador and South Africa, to negotiate a binding treaty on business and human rights.
Industry representatives said the vote could undermine ongoing efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the so-called “Ruggie Principles” which have garnered broad support among states, businesses and civil society.
That consensus was reaffirmed on Friday by the Council’s unanimous adoption of a second resolution put forward by a “core group,” consisting of Argentina, Ghana, Norway and Russia, which renewed the mandate of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to continue facilitating the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles by governments and corporations.
According to USCIB’s Vice President for Labor, Corporate Responsibility and Governance Ariel Meyerstein, when compared to the unanimous support for the core group’s resolution, the narrow margin of support garnered by Ecuador and South Africa’s proposal – 20 countries supporting, 14 against and 13 abstaining – clearly reflects the lack of consensus behind an intergovernmental treaty-making process.
“While there is still a remarkable degree of agreement over the ”protect, respect and remedy” framework of the Guiding Principles and the multi-stakeholder approach of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, governments are clearly split over a treaty approach.” Meyerstein said, noting that the widespread uptake of the Guiding Principles after only three years far outpaced traditional treaty-making efforts and confirmed that it was a “trusted approach, which, if given sufficient time and support from national governments as well as the business sector, will achieve considerable results on the ground.”
Meyerstein spoke from Paris, where he attended the OECD’s 2nd Annual Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct, which gathered more than 700 participants from the international community to address the application of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in implementing responsible business practices globally.
The International Organization of Employers (IOE), part of USCIB’s global network and the voice of business in the International Labor Organization and other UN bodies, also voiced its support for the Guiding Principles in the aftermath of the vote on the Ecuador-South Africa proposal, noting that:
“Notwithstanding the adoption of the Ecuador resolution yesterday, [the Guiding Principles] remain the right approach to strengthen the implementation of human rights on the ground. The IOE is fully committed to continue to collaborate closely with the UN Working Group, States and all other stakeholders to reach this aim.”
Prior to the vote, the IOE questioned the utility of devoting resources to drafting yet another treaty, particularly one, as currently proposed by Ecuador and South Africa, that targets only multinational firms but not purely domestic enterprises, and that might not be enforced in many countries where rights abuses are rampant.
“As Prof. Ruggie observed on multiple occasions in response to the Ecuador proposal, there is unfortunately no reason to believe the proposed binding instrument would enjoy a different fate in any of the jurisdictions where there are already deficits in human rights treaty ratification and enforcement and the rule of law,” Meyerstein said.
Staff contact: Ariel Meyerstein