human rights & business (and a few other things)

American Society of International Law Business and Human Rights Roundtable, Washington DC

Participants to the roundtableOn 29 March I had the pleasure to participate to a roundtable on business and human rights organized by the American Society of International Law Human Rights Interest Group at George Washington University School of Law. The roundtable focused on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and on the controversial drafting of a treaty on business and human rights.

My presentation focused on the treaty. I have said before that I have strong reservations about it (see here), and I still do. However, the process has now started and I think it is important to engage with it and to consider options to move forward. To set the scene, I made the point that contrary to what we may hear here and there on this issue, there exist dozens of treaties pertaining to business and human rights. International Labour Organisation conventions touch upon issues that are frequently the object of so called “business and human rights” litigation. One can mention for example Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines, which includes an obligation for states not only to regulate the matter, but also to “take all necessary measures, including the provision of appropriate penalties and corrective measures, to ensure the effective enforcement of the provisions of the Convention.” (Article 16) Moreover, all nine UN human rights treaties, to name only the main conventions of international human rights law, cover rights that are susceptible to be violated by the business sector and that state parties ought to protect. It is therefore a crowded legal environment already.

In this context, I discussed how a business and human rights treaty could add value, not through the creation of direct obligations for corporations, which I think cannot work, but by focusing on state  obligations in more detail than the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights. To me, the added value here is that a treaty would force states to report on the matter to a dedicated treaty body, business and human rights issues would more naturally make their way into the Universal Periodic Review process, and it would lead to General Comments which could be of use from an advocacy point of view.





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