The United States’ Opposition to the Business and Human Rights Treaty Process

The United States’ Opposition to the Business and Human Rights Treaty Process

October 15, 2018

The United States is not participating in this week’s session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the articulation of a business and human rights treaty (IGWG) in Geneva because it remains opposed to the treaty process and the manner in which it has been pursued. The IGWG is detracting from the valuable foundation laid by the UN Guiding Principles (GPs), a framework for avoiding and addressing adverse human rights impacts that involve business activity. The international community has spoken clearly on this topic, emphasizing the need for the voluntary, multi-stakeholder, and consensus-based approach developed through the GPs. The IGWG runs counter to the consensus of the international community.

We appreciate many of the concerns that have motivated some in civil society to support the treaty initiative, including how to improve access to effective remedies for those impacted by business-related human rights abuses. We continue to believe, however, that the one-size-fits-all approach represented by the proposed treaty is not the best way to address all adverse effects of business activities on human rights, and particularly not in the severely flawed form in the draft treaty under consideration this week. The GPs were deliberately designed to avoid this kind of unworkable approach.

Furthermore, negotiations around a possible binding instrument have already proven to be highly contentious and time-intensive, resulting in a crippling lack of participation from many key stakeholders. The work being done by companies, governments, civil society, and others – including through partnerships, multi-stakeholder initiatives, National Action Plans, standard-setting, rankings, consumer education, and procurement – is innovative, constructive, and bearing practical fruit.  We believe the consensus approach offered by the GPs – rather than the IGWG approach, which has ignored the concerns expressed by many and will clearly not achieve consensus – is the right one to take, and is necessary for continued progress.