Photo: xlibber (via Flickr CC)

Updates 2016

Last years' developments in Geneva on the UN business and human rights treaty.

In October 2016, States and civil society groups and from all over the world gathered at the at the UN in Geneva for the second session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group (IGWG) on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights .

The main purpose of these talks was to deliberate on the content, scope, nature and form of the future international instrument on business and human rights. SOMO was one of the many NGO’s following the discussions in Geneva and works together with partner organisations towards a treaty  that will effectively contribute to enhanced access to justice and remedy for victims of business related human rights abuse.

See updates from these negatations below. Useful linkssummaries and statements are found at the bottom of this page.

 October 28, 2016

Read a summary of day 5 here.

Over the past decades, States have reaffirmed the right to an effective remedy in numerous treaties and declarations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law. It is time to put these words into action, and ensure that the right to an effective remedy is protected and promoted for all victims, also for those whose rights were violated by corporate actors.

– Lydia de Leeuw of SOMO, also on behalf of other organisations – read the full statement

In particular, the treaty should oblige states to provide for civil, criminal and administrative liability in case of violations of human rights by business. The treaty should also include a provision for collective redress and access to legal aid in appropriate cases. Furthermore, transparency and access to information need to be ensured through the treaty, in order to enable victims to effectively seek remedy. Legal action from both host and home States should be required, with denial of access to remedy being treated as a human rights violation by the State concerned.

– Lydia de Leeuw of SOMO, also on behalf of other organisations – read the full statement

Parent companies are rarely held liable for human rights abuses committed by their subsidiaries or along their supply chains, while the environment of local subsidiaries and suppliers is often characterized by weak regulation and enforcement. Therefore, the future international legally binding instrument must remove obstacles to remedy at the national level […]

– Lydia de Leeuw of SOMO, also on behalf of other organisations – read the full statement



October 27, 2016

Read a summary of day 4 here.


October 26, 2016

Read a summary of day 3 here.



October 25, 2016

Read a summary of day 2 here.



October 24, 2016

Read a summary of day 1 here.

The Treaty should ensure that trade and investment treaties do not prevent States from meeting their pre-existing human rights obligations, and do not provide the means for companies to escape their responsibility. It should :  

  • Contain a hierarchical clause that establishes the primacy of this Treaty above any trade and investment treaty between two Parties, in the event of a conflict.
  • Reaffirm the primacy of human rights, as guaranteed by States’ pre-existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights at every stage of negotiation, interpretation and dispute resolution.
  • Address the critical gaps of the monitoring and assessment of the concrete impacts of trade and investment agreements.
  • Effectively empower States and affected populations to prevent and remedy the adverse human rights impacts of these agreements.

– Debbie Stothard of FIDH, also on behalf of SOMO

The treaty should address the following challenges, namely:

  • Trade and investment agreements oblige States to adopt measures that may infringe upon human rights, hamper their capacity to protect human rights or, prevent them from controlling private stakeholders
  • Investment agreements are used by investors
  • Trade and investment agreements become an obstacle to the recognition of pre-existing human rights obligations, therefore subordinating human rights to investor protections.

– Debbie Stothard of FIDH, also on behalf of SOMO

FIDH, CIDSE, SOMO and FoEE which are all members of the Treaty Alliance, firmly believe that a legally binding instrument must not be conceived as an isolated instrument –  it must address the legal issues and potential conflicts that result from other legal regimes, such as those created by trade and investments agreements.

– Debbie Stothard of FIDH, also on behalf of SOMO

We call on States to begin considering how the future binding instrument can best respect, protect and fulfill human rights in this context, and ask them to consider the inclusion of a general ‘good governance and conflict of interest mitigation’ provision into the text of the future instrument.

– Intervention by ESCR-net

The first day of the week-long second session of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on the proposed business & human rights treaty is about to kick off!

Start updates

Oral and Written Statements

Panel IV: Open debate on different approaches and criteria for the future definition of the scope of the international legally binding instrument – By SOMO, CIDSE, FIDH, ICJ and more organisations.

Panel VI: Lessons learned and challenges to access to remedy (selected cases from different sectors and regions) – By SOMO, CIDSE, FIDH, ICJ and more organisations.

All written contributions


Summary day 1

Summary day 2

Summary day 3 & 4

Summary day 5

Useful links

UN Human Rights  – Live stream, agenda and more.

Press release by FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights.

Treaty Alliance – Global movement for a binding treaty on business and human rights.

Treaty Alliance: Resources – Official docs, statements, studies, opinions, background information.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre – Live Twitter feed, related statements and articles, a blog and more.

European Coalition for Corporate Justice – Live Twitter feed, articles and more.

International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – Video of side event, views of the day and more.

Red International de Derechos Humanos – Facebook page: video’s, side events, views of the day and more.

Stop Corporate Impunity – Campaign to stop corporate impunity, mobilisation and more.