The U.S. Government’s Continued Opposition to the Business & Human Rights Treaty Process

The United States Government’s Continued Opposition to the Business and Human Rights Treaty Process
Geneva, October 16, 2019

The United States once again will not participate in this week’s session of the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIGWG) on the articulation of a business and human rights treaty in Geneva, because it remains opposed to the treaty process and the manner in which it has been pursued. This process continues to detract from the valuable foundation laid by the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs), a framework for preventing 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 UNGPs. The OEIGWG process 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. The revised version of the proposed treaty does not remedy the flaws that plagued last year’s draft. Rather, some of these flaws have become worse. The UNGPs were painstakingly crafted to avoid the unworkable approach represented by the draft treaty.

Furthermore, negotiations around the draft treaty continue to be highly contentious, resulting in a crippling lack of participation from many key stakeholders—most notably a sizable percentage of the States that are home to the world’s largest transnational corporations. Indeed, like the United States, several such States chose to absent themselves from last year’s OEIGWG session and have done the same this year. The process has become irreconcilably broken and dissenting voices are routinely silenced by those running the process, including by omitting dissenting views from the annual reports, ostensibly to project an appearance of greater consensus.

By contrast, 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 continues to bear practical fruit. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Accountability and Remedy Project, and the numerous informative thematic and country reviews undertaken by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, are also positively contributing to the development of a rich body of best practices for implementing the UNGPs.

In sum, we believe the consensus approach offered by the UNGPs—rather than the OEIGWG approach, which ignores the legitimate concerns of key stakeholders and will not achieve consensus—is without question the right one to take, and is necessary for continued progress.