The question of a legally binding treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises has been under consideration by an open-ended inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises, which was established on foot of a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2014.
The working group has had five sessions to date, with the most recent having taken place in Geneva from 14 to 18 October 2019. It considered the revised draft text of a legally binding instrument which had earlier been circulated by Ecuador, the chair of the working group. Ireland was among those EU Member States which advocated a greater engagement by the European Union in the process and I am pleased therefore that the EU participated and made statements at the opening and closing debates.
As the proposed treaty covers matters for which the EU is competent, it will be for the European Commission to negotiate on behalf of the EU and its Member States. For my part, I am open to looking at options for progress on a legally binding treaty, which I believe should be firmly rooted in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. I would like to see any new initiative build on, rather than duplicate, existing measures such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.
Any new treaty would have to reaffirm the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights and stress the primary responsibility of States under existing human rights obligations to protect against human rights violations. I also believe that it would have to treat all economic operators, whether transnational or purely domestic, in a non-discriminatory manner.
Ultimately, if it is to achieve its objectives, any legally binding instrument should enjoy broad support among UN Member States to ensure its effectiveness as well as international coherence in the framework of business and human rights. On this point, I would note that of the 22 countries which to date have adopted National Plans on Business and Human Rights, 16, including Ireland, are EU Member States.