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The UN Treaty Process: a worldwide binding agreement on business and human rights

The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights are not a binding treaty under international law.  No mechanism for implementation is included.  Although more and more countries have developed national action plans for implementation, these plans are not equally ambitious.  Worldwide uniform and binding regulations for business and human rights are needed.  To change this, negotiations in the United Nations for a binding treaty are ongoing.  The so-called “UN Treaty” is to be an internationally binding agreement setting up the same rules for all countries.  The UN Treaty Process would create clear rules for corporations and open the possibility of litigation, even international litigation, to affected parties. 

On the initiative of Ecuador and South Africa, the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 spoke by majority in favor of such a human rights treaty for the regulation of commercial activities.  Since then, three meetings of an international working group have taken place in Geneva to negotiate such a treaty.  In the most recent meeting in October 2017, 101 countries were represented and the leading negotiators from Ecuador discussed recommended elements of the future treaty.  However, many industrialized countries – including Germany and the EU – were very skeptical about the process.

In addition to many international law experts and current and former UN special correspondents, a broad alliance of more than 1,000 non-government organizations worldwide support the process.  The European Parliament has also repeatedly requested the EU and its member states to actively and constructively take part in the formulation of a binding treaty.  The Forum Fairer Handel is part of the German alliance of supporters, the Treaty Alliance Deutschland.

What should the treaty contain?
  •  The treaty should require countries to clearly legislate respect for human rights by companies located within their borders, as well as those companies’ foreign businesses, subsidiaries, and supply chains.
  • The treaty should permit affected persons to litigate for their rights in case of injury, if appropriate in the home country of the offending company.
  • States should agree how to work together in international cases to hold businesses responsible.
  • States should agree that their duties under the UN Human Rights Treaty have priority over their duties in common trade and investment protection treaties.
  • An independent expert committee should observe execution of the treaty.

The content of this web site is the exclusive responsibility of Forum Fairer Handel e.V., the positions presented do not reflect the attitude of the European Union, ENGAGEMENT GLOBAL gGmbH and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Sponsored by the European Union and ENGAGEMENT GLOBAL on behalf of 

Contact person

Foto Maja Volland
Maja Volland
Tel. 030 - 280 45 349

For further reading

Treaty Alliance (2019): Statement of the Treaty Alliance Germany on the draft for a legally binding UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights (»Revised Draft«) Download