Perspectives About a Treaty on Transnational Corporations: Triumphalist Activism vs. the Reality of Facts

Alejandro Teitelbaum

The wording of the last part of the Report of the third session —held at the end of October— of the Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council that discusses a Draft of a binding Treaty on transnational corporations, raised doubts in some NGOs about how the debate will continue, whether there will be a fourth session of the Working Group and even whether it will subsist or cease to exist. Indeed, the text of the last part of the Report of the third session raises questions as to its interpretation. There are on the one hand the Recommendations of the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Group and on the other the Conclusions of the same Working Group. The Chairperson-Rapporteur Recommends that a fourth session be convened for 2018.

The assessment of the prospects for achieving the approval and implementation of a Treaty that frames the activities of transnational corporations needs to be put in the context of the situation and the relationship of world forces, where the omnipotence of transnational economic power can be attested, and to which all States submit submissively.

Hence to write as two activists do in a note that can be found in Viento Sur ( "We must emphasise the fundamental active participation and the political pressure of the social movements, NGOs and communities affected by human rights violations that managed to overcome the blockade of the EU and other States trying to endanger the continuity of the process” is totally subjective and alien to the reality of the facts and / or an attempt to overvalue the activism of some NGOs. Furthermore, what is stated in the same note is inaccurate: "The recommendations of the presidency cannot be modified by any State now or blocked by the European Union or the United States.", for the Recommendations of the President-Relator are not even endorsed by the conclusions of the Working Group; they are just Recommendations and the Human Rights Council is empowered —lobbying and pressure from the great powers willing— to terminate the mandate of the Working Group and, if it comes to the case, appoint a Special Rapporteur.

We think that it is correct to take the discussion to the heart of the UN, as a way to publicise —a bit— the denunciation against the TNCs. But it must necessarily be accompanied by the denunciation —inside and outside the UN— of the negative role of states —despite the demagogic discourse of some of them— and of the decision-making bodies within the UN, which are instruments at the service of the great powers and of transnational economic power. The triumphalist declarations of some activists and NGOs imply taking on the grave responsibility of deceiving the victims of transnational economic power instead of, as it should be, trying to make them aware about the true scope of the problem.

Finally, in the very unlikely case that a treaty was approved —which would still be significantly weakened— it should be noted that a treaty is binding only for those states that sign it and formally adhere to it. Therefore, to speak of a "binding treaty" is a redundancy, because a treaty is, in accordance with international law, always binding on the states that sign it and adhere to it with the formalities established by its domestic law. It is hard to imagine the governments of the great powers signing and their respective parliaments ratifying the adhesion to a treaty that limits the activities of transnational corporations; and that sanctions the violations committed against economic, social and cultural rights and against human rights in general.




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