During the week of October 24, USCIB Senior Counsel Ronnie Goldberg was in Geneva to attend the 8th session of the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group that is negotiating a UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights. According to Goldberg, USCIB and the International Organization of Employers (IOE) have long raised serious concerns about both the content of the proposed treaty and the process by which it is being negotiated.
“A limited number of countries have engaged in this negotiation to date, and last month’s session saw no significant increase,” said Goldberg. “Many countries have expressed their disappointment and frustration with the approach of the Working Group, which represents a major departure from the international consensus achieved through the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights (UNGP). USCIB remains concerned that comments and suggestions from the U.S. and EU, as well as from private sector representatives, are being ignored.” There appears to be a lack of effort to develop a genuine consensus, added Goldberg.
Intersessional meetings will be convened before the next round of negotiations in 2023, but the terms and mandate for these meetings remain unclear. What is clear is that this process promises to grind on for years to come.
Meanwhile, the current iteration of the draft treaty remains inconsistent with the purpose and principles of the UNGP in many respects. While the UNGP emphasizes that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights requires business enterprises to seek, prevent, mitigate and remediate adverse human rights impacts, including through due diligence, the draft treaty imposes a mandatory and complex due diligence process for business entities, requires that business entities either prevent human rights violations from happening or face liability, and makes no mention of other entities indispensable to the protection of human rights, notably governments implementing their own laws and obligations.
“In sum, the text that emerged from the recent negotiation remains unimplementable and largely unratifiable,” asserted Goldberg. “As it stands, it risks harming investment, trade and employment creation, particularly for countries with large informal sectors and deep-rooted challenges related to child and forced labor.” It would also be counterproductive to the efforts of business to safeguard human rights by undermining efforts to strengthen the implementation of the UNGP, raising serious concerns about State sovereignty and creating significant legal uncertainties.
USCIB has thanked the U.S. Government for its support for involving business alongside all societal partners in the Treaty negotiations. “We will continue to engage with the Administration on ways to protect human rights in the context of rule of law and voluntary enabling frameworks for responsible business conduct,” said Goldberg.