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The possibility of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) creating an intergovernmental working group aiming to establish binding human rights regulations and mandatory enforcement mechanisms for transnational corporations is not that remote. Hundreds of social organizations are advocating for this to happen during the 26th session of the Council to take place from June 10 to 27 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Several groups will participate in a mobilization week in that city and in different parts of the world to denounce transnational corporations and their “architecture” of impunity. A delegation of environmental activists from Friends of the Earth International will travel to Geneva to join the actions.
The coordinator of the Economic Justice program of REDES-Friends of the Earth Uruguay, Alberto Villarreal, told Real World Radio that the idea of making companies comply with human rights regulation dates from 1973 in Chile, led by then President Salvador Allende. Allende was murdered in September that year by the Military Dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Organizations from different parts of the world worked for years to stop corporate power and make companies comply with legal and mandatory regulations about human rights. Following Villarreal´s explanation, the UNHRC in 2011 approved a series of guidelines about corporate behavior in terms of human rights, but they were voluntary. “Companies have no obligation to respect them”.
Last year Ecuador, with the special support of South Africa and a group of 85 countries, raised the issue before the Human Rights Council, and the proposal is coming together”, said Villarreal.
During the March sessions of the HRC, “we developed the Treaty Alliance, an informal alliance made up of organizations”, among them, to name a few, Friends of the Earth International, FIAN International, the Human Rights International Federation. Over 500 social organizations have joined them and 200 people from all continents have signed the declaration to pressure the UN Council. (See: http://www.treatymovement.com/statement/)
Several of the organizations working on this new push are part of a world campaign to stop corporate impunity since 2012 (See: http://www.stopcorporateimpunity.org/)
On June 26, Friends of the Earth International will submit a report that accounts for over 100 human rights violations against environment defenders in different parts of the world. The report is titled “We defend the environment, we defend human rights” (available here
Villarreal said that the UN has publicly identified “the recent problem of the violations of the human rights of environmental defenders”.
The member of REDES – Friends of the Earth Uruguay said that the main motivation “is to stop attacks by transnational corporations” that do not only attempt against communities and the environment, but also against the “Rule of Law, democracy in its broadest sense”. He said that thanks to Investment Protection Treaties, among other instruments, corporations are able to go to international courts dominated by the economic power to sue States for their policies in defense of public health. Villarreal made reference to the case of tobacco company Philip Morris against the Uruguayan government due to the anti tobacco policies implemented in the country. The case is at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID, a World Bank body). “States are defenseless and even feel inhibited in their ability and obligation to protect the human rights of the population”. Philip Morris is challenging a law “in favor of the health of Uruguayan people”, regretted the activist.
Villarreal considers that it is fundamental to stop the power of transnational corporations, that not only “dominate the world in economic terms, but also politically and now through laws”.
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