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Time for a treaty on TNCs and human rights, feminist advocates say

The sheer size and scope of corporate power, when compared to nation states, can be difficult to comprehend. Research shows that 63 per cent of the top 175 global economic entities are transnational corporations, not countries.

Up until now, the ability to sue corporations for human rights violations and environmental damage has depended on national governments’ capacities, political will, and resources to pay the exorbitant amounts of money to sustain such international lawsuits, to hold corporations accountable and demand compensation.

With the rise of corporate tycoons to the global political arena, in alliance with -or themselves heads of- corporations, the de-regulation of corporate activities in the name of “investment protection” could, if left unchecked, get much worse.

This is a deeply worrying trend for human rights advocates, especially women. Every week we see more news of violent backlash against activists protesting the actions of corporations around the world, with many activists, including women human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres paying with their lives for defending their communities and their territories. Examples abound, from those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States to indigenous communities resisting the Agua Zarca dam project in Honduras and the Niger Delta where women continue to challenge oil exploration by international oil companies.

Gendered impacts of corporate abuse are largely overlooked. For example, women human rights defenders confronting corporate abuse in their communities have repeatedly denounced how they are targeted, not only for the work they do, but also because of their gender. This includes rape, sexual assault, and threats to themselves and their families, to restrict their political participation in the public sphere. Their perspectives need to be taken into account in any binding treaty through the voices of WHRDs themselves.

It is no surprise, thus, that a proposal to have an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights has attracted widespread support from gender and women’s rights advocates. The proposal is currently under study of an open-ended intergovernmental working group (IGWG) working within the UN Human Rights Council.

Participating of the 2nd session of such intergovernmental working group, recently held in Geneva, feminist activists expressed their hopes and demands for this process.

In the words of Fernanda Hopenhaym, of Mexican organization Poder: “It’s essential to think of the impacts that these corporations are having on the lives of women, for example on labor rights, the gender pay gap, the impact on women in local communities when there are human rights violations – especially economic, social and cultural rights-, capture of land, territories, and natural resources that have an impact on rural and indigenous communities.

 “For too long, women in all parts of life; women in rural areas; women from indigenous communities; women from social minorities; women suffering poverty, have had to carry the worst effects of human rights violations and denial of basic livelihood because of corporate power working in coordination with States that have refused or failed to protect women’s human rights. said Debbie Stothard, ‎International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Burma. “We need to have a binding treaty in order to equalize that situation.”

Ana Inés Abelenda is Program Coordinator of the Economic Justice team at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). Click here to read a longer article. Click here to learn about AWID’S work on the state of corporate power and how feminists are challenging it around the world. Click here to learn more about Women Human Rights Defenders fighting corporate power and abuse and the ways in which you can support them.


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March 2017
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