The Indian government-backed demand for an international legally binding agreement to curb human right violations by multinational companies has been agreed to at the recently concluded United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.
The move comes in contrast to the tenor of the leaked Intelligence Bureau report, which had cricitised non-governmental organisations (NGO) and activists for using violation of human rights and other reasons to stall projects and investments by multinational corporations in India.
At the council meeting on June 26, a majority vote decided that work would begin on "elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights".
The resolution was moved by Ecuador and South Africa and found support among 20 members of the council, including India, China, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Russia. Some developing countries like Argentina and Brazil abstained from voting but 14 developed country members voted against the resolution. These included the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The Human Rights Council resolution establishes a process by which an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of multinational corporations would be decided. The resolution emphasises "the important role of civil society actors in promoting corporate social responsibility and in preventing, mitigating, and seeking remedy for adverse human rights impacts of transnational corporations and other business enterprises".
While debating the resolution before the vote, the Ecuadorian ambassador recalled that the "victims of disasters, such as that by Union Carbide in Bhopal (India)" were yet to get a fair compensation and remedy. This was reported by the Third World Network, a south-based NGO observer group.
An Indian official speaking at the meeting asked countries to work together to not only encourage businesses to respect human rights, but also to hold them accountable for violations.
The US refused to participate in the treaty-making process, encouraging others to follow suit and said it preferred the existing guiding principles on the issue that are not enforceable. The EU and Japan, too, took a similar line of argument against the resolution, preferring to stick to the guidelines, while the UK suggested appropriate domestic laws would suffice.
The resolution passed by majority vote came a year after Ecuador in September 2013, backed by more than 80 developing countries, had talked of a system to prosecute transnational companies that cannot be effectively regulated by countries. The Human Rights Council meeting had come under pressure of unprecedented mobilisation by international civil society groups, with more than 600 of them from various developing and developed countries coming together in an alliance to demand a treaty of this nature. The negotiations for the treaty are slated to start in 2015.