Human Rights and Business: Towards a regulation of economic actors?

Mani TeseFondazione Finanza Etica and SID are pleased to announce the national workshop  on Human Rights and Business: Towards a regulation of economic actors? scheduled to take place on October 4th, 2017 at Fondazione Lelio Basso, in Rome, Italy. The workshop aims to foster the debate within the Italian civil society, policymaking (parliament and government), media and academia,  on the topic of business and human rights and in particular to raise awareness around the inter-governmental process for the elaboration of a binding treaty on TNCs and Other Business Enterprises (OBEs) with respect to human rights. The workshop is the first civil society public event in Italy addressing the issue of the binding treaty and happens in conjuction with the release of the Elements for a draft legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights. The text will be negotiated during the third session of the Inter Governmental Working Group in Geneva (23-27 october 2017).


Human Rights and Business: Towards a regulation of economic actors?

4 October 2017, H 10:00 AM, Fondazione Lelio Basso, Via della Dogana Vecchia,5 Rome, Italy

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In the last two decades, the private sector has increasingly permeated the global policy-making process. Its presence and participation are being increasingly welcomed and facilitated by governments, as well as by international agencies and organizations. It is a widespread belief that the participation of the private sector in the public policy making process can contribute significantly to enhance social well-being. The public-private partnership paradigm - already affirmed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - has been confirmed by the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In such a context, news about environmental devastations and human rights abuses carried out by multinational corporations are very frequent in the media. Extractive industries in conflict areas, infrastructural investments leading to megaprojects, forced labor practices in the manufacturing industry (of food, clothing, and many other primary goods): practically, no sector is excluded from the list of companies which hardly show any virtue in their industrial and commercial policies and practices.

The mounting power of influence of large corporations, largely documented, is not counterbalanced yet at international level by any regulatory framework aimed at setting the rules for legal liability of the business sector, even when activities of multinational enterprises produce negative externalities on human rights and the environment. The situation is even more uncertain when companies operate in the Global South, where legal systems are more fragile, and access to justice is often much more eroded.

The substantive immunity of the biggest multinational economic actors of the world has ultimately been the focus of academia, civil society, and even some governments for several years. The intergovernmental debate on this regulatory gap has laboriously engaged the United Nations. In 2011 the United Nations – after a negotiation involving Member States, civil society and business organizations – endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

However, a number of UN Member States have considered the Guiding Principles a largely inadequate instrument to address the linkage between business and human rights, primarily because of its underlying voluntary approach. Thus, they championed a resolution at the Human Rights Council containing the proposal of the establishment of an Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG), to resume the topic. In June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed Resolution 26/9, which established an open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) to develop an international legally binding instrument on business and human rights. The mandate of the IGWG is to identify and weave together the elements of a treaty to regulate “transnational corporations (TNCs)and other business enterprises (OBEs).” The resolution, which was co-sponsored by Ecuador and South Africa, was passed by affirmative votes from 20 Member States of the UNHRC. It is worth noting that the Italian government, aligned to all the EU Member States, voted against the creation of the IGWG.

After two sessions in 2015 and 2016, the IGWG has now come to a crucial phase. Its third session, scheduled in Geneva from 23 to 27 October 2017, aims to find an agreement on the draft paper prepared by the Ecuador Presidency on the basis of the inputs and contributions presented and discussed during the two previous sessions.

The IGWG remains an almost completely ignored negotiation in Italy, unknown to the public opinion and to policymakers and civil society organizations just as well. Hardly any media interest is focused on this diplomatic route.

The Italian Constitution wisely circumscribes the limits of entrepreneurial activity, towards preserving the value of public utility. There is a close correlation, therefore, between the intergovernmental process launched in Geneva and some essential aspects of the role of States vis a vis their people.

The Workshop on Business and Human Rights - organized in the line up to the upcoming session of the IGWG in Geneva - aims to foster the beginning of a debate in Italy with representatives of the Parliament, of the Italian Government, CSOs and NGOs, and the trade unions. It is also directed at the Representations of the Member States of the IGWG through their permanent missions in Rome.

Objectives of the meeting

- Raise awareness with policymakers, civil society and academia on Business and Human Rights issues and on the ongoing activities at the United Nations in Geneva;

- Encourage the Italian institutions to share national positions on the topic and, in particular, to provide country data on the implementation of the National Action Plan for the implementation of the UNGPs;

- Disseminate the Treaty Alliance International Statement in support of the IGWG binding treaty proposal;

- Promote parliamentary initiatives to guide the Italian Government on the position to take within the context of the European Union for the UN negotiations;

- Create the conditions for an Italian platform on Business and Human Rights.

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#DirittiUmanieImprese #BindingTreaty #StopCorporateAbuse

Background documents and workshop contributions:

- Alfred De Zayas, (UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order) Text | Video

- Members of the European Parliament statement in support of a binding treaty on business and human righs Italian | English

- Treaty Alliance Statement Italian | English

- Elements for a draft legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.