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Day 1 Summary: UN Treaty on Business & Human Rights negotiations kick off amid major global uncertainties

"UN Treaty on Business & Human Rights negotiations kick off amid major global uncertainties", 27 October 2020.

...Despite restrictions on travel and large gatherings, more than 50 member states participated in person, while a large number of civil society organisations (CSOs), trade unions and other stakeholders joined the discussions virtually.

The first day began with opening statements by member states, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Luis Gallegos, and the Chairperson Rapporteur, Emilio Izquierdo, who addressed how the COVID-19 crisis requires states to better regulate supply chains to protect human rights and the environment and to strengthen the sustainability of businesses operating on a planet with finite resources...

Most state delegates and accredited organisations recognised that the new draft is better aligned with the UN Guiding Principles (UN GPs). However, issues like scope, direct obligations for businesses and extraterritorial jurisdiction proved contentious.

Various states, such as Cuba, the Philippines, Pakistan, Venezuela, Mozambique and Egypt, spoke in support of the legally binding process, but urged states to exercise caution and not exceed the scope of “elaborating an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises,” as mandated by resolution 26/9. The EU and China seemed to agree on one thing: the text does not provide an appropriate legal basis for negotiations and criticised the lack of participation by industrialised nations. Armenia and Ethiopia supported China’s statement, claiming that the overly detailed coverage of human and environmental rights puts the right to development at risk. The UK was the only state to echo the position of the International Chamber of Commerce and the International Organisation of Employers by calling the scope of the draft “too vague to be workable” and the draft text “inconsistent with principles of international law”, without providing further explanation...

Even after six years, the EU still does not have a negotiating mandate, even though the revised text addresses most of the EU’s previously raised concerns...

In stark contrast, Egypt and Senegal were supportive of the treaty process, but urged states to “move beyond hiding behind the UN GPs,” as the treaty process is complementary and advances the UNGPs...

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