Meta | 4 March 2019
A UN Treaty to reduce corporate impunity advances
by Nick Meynen, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
OPINION: A promising negotiation is taking place at the UN Human Rights Council. A legally binding treaty on business and human rights could give victims transnational corporations’ malpractice a lot more power to pursue the justice they deserve. The EEB is stepping up its efforts to make the most of this opportunity to achieve environmental justice globally.
In 1993, Ecuadorian citizens sued Texaco (that became Chevron) for leaving behind a massive amount of deadly pollution from decades of oil operations in the Amazon Rainforest. Twenty years and an unprecedented legal ordeal later, Ecuador’s Supreme Court ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion to clean up. Chevron refuses and instead paid a vast army of lawyers and PR firms to sue the victim’s lawyers and discredit them and Ecuador’s Supreme Court. The EEB crowdfunded for the lawyers who defend the 30.000 Ecuadorean plaintiffs. They are still proceeding the case in Canada. 26 years after opening a court case that they won at the highest level six years ago, the victims still face massive pollution problems and corporate impunity.
This case explains why it was Ecuador who took a bold initiative. In June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution drafted by Ecuador and South Africa. 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, chaired by Ecuador, was established. After three sessions in 2015, 2016 and 2017, a ‘zero draft’ of this new legally binding treaty on business and human rights was presented.
The EEB has written to the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to comment on the draft. Francesca Carlsson, Legal officer for the EEB:
“We regret that that there is no mention of the need to protect Human Rights and Environmental defenders and journalists from abuse, harassment, criminalization and harm. It is often thanks to the work of defenders and the media that victims are able to organize themselves to claim their rights. There should be dissuasive measures on corporations and governments that use methods to silence defenders.”
In the past decade, the number of environmental defenders killed, often on the order of or by the transnational corporations that this treaty tries to regulate, has gone from one a week to four a week.
Carlsson also said that in order to truly have justice for victims, “it is important that they are given the opportunity to ask the courts for injunctive measures, including relief.” She also listed a list of positive elements in the draft that should not get compromised in further negotiation stages. The draft of this treaty attempts to widen the scope of jurisdiction for victims, allowing them to benefit from the most protective legislation. Multinational corporations already have the means to benefit from “forum shopping”, picking the countries with the legislation most favorable for their case.
The legally binding treaty on business and human rights is a promising initiative that could seriously improve global environmental justice. That is sorely needed, given the fast-rising global environmental justice movement, which is linked to the ever increasing amount of environmental conflicts, which the EEB also helps to map in the Atlas of Environmental Justice. The treaty is also a direct opposite of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms adopted in trade deals, as they expand the powers of transnational corporations. The EEB is one of 100s of organizations behind an European campaign that calls for rights for people and rules for corporations. Aside from stopping ISDS, the organizations behind this campaign want the EU to fully engage with the UN Treaty on business and human rights. You can join the more than 500.000 Europeans who support this campaign here.