Published by TNI here; authored by Brid Brennan and Gonzalo Berrón entitled Touching A Nerve; How a peoples’ campaign at the United Nations is challenging corporate rule
Since 2015, there has been an annual negotiation at the United Nations’ Palais des Nations in Geneva that touches the very nerve centre of corporate capitalism. This event stems from the June 2014 United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 29/6 that set up an intergovernmental working group to elaborate a legally binding instrument to regulate transnational corporations. It was a historic initiative as it demonstrated that corporate rule – which many still see as unquestionable – can be challenged and confronted.
It is, unsurprisingly, a negotiation that has been contested every step of the way, revealing the often conflicting – but sometimes coinciding – interests among the three major actors: states, corporations and the affected communities, social movements and civil society organisations (CSOs).
This trajectory sees the convergence of diverse paths.
For states – assuming a new historic responsibility to put a Binding Treaty in place that addresses the acknowledged gap in human rights law, the architecture of corporate power and impunity, and access to justice. For corporations, the repeated defence of the status quo – legitimising corporate violations of human rights and profits before peoples’ rights. And for affected communities and social movements – persistent resistance, building law from below and sustaining pressure on governments.
Ever since transnational corporations (TNCs) became major global actors, affected communities, factory workers and social movements have resisted this corporate economic model.
By 2000, communities and workers worldwide had protested against TNC crimes – including such iconic cases as the Union Carbide pesticide plant’s poisonous gas leak in Bhopal in 1984; Shell’s ruptured pipeline in Bodo Nigeria (2008–2009); Chevron’s dumping of crude oil in Ecuador (1964–1992); European Corporations’ (Fossil Fuels/Energy, Agriculture & Manufacturing) blocking of significant reductions in CO2 emissions; and British Petroleum’s (BP) Deep Water Horizon explosion (April 2010) in the Gulf of Mexico.
While the resistance of affected communities has been a constant challenge to the operations of TNCs and their human rights violations, it was the joint convening of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Sessions by the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA) and the Enlazando Alternativas on European Corporations in Latin America (2004–2010) that kick-started a new process of bringing the different movements together and developing a shared analysis of the corporate violations of human rights.
In the process of sharing experiences of 46 cases in three sessions, they not only pointed to the specific corporate violations of human rights but also identified their systemic character.
The verdicts identified an ‘architecture of impunity’, generated by different trade and investment agreements and the global institutions of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, that legitimised and prioritised protections and privileges to corporations over the human rights of communities and workers.
This notably includes the Investor to State Dispute System (ISDS) whereby TNCs can unilaterally sue states for actions that affect their profits. The PPT Judgement in Madrid in May 2010 concluded that the human rights of people in Latin America and Europe faced an impenetrable wall of impunity and denial of justice in relation to TNCs’ operations. It noted that Global Corporate Rule had become entrenched – privileging profits above peoples’ rights and the protection of the planet.
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