The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Introducing the Draft - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.

By resolution, on 26 June 2014 the UN Human Rights Council adopted Ecuador’s proposal to establish an inter-governmental working group mandated ‘to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises’. The proposal was adopted by 20 to 14 votes, with 13 abstentions, and four years later, in July this year, the working group published the first draft of the treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’). Shortly after, the draft Optional Protocol to the draft treaty was released. The Optional Protocol focuses on access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses by businesses.

This first blog of a series of articles dedicated to the proposed BHR Treaty provides an overview of the main elements of the draft. It will be followed by a review of the reactions to the Draft, and a final piece outlining some recommendations for the upcoming negotiations. More...

The Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on Human Rights: Changing the Paradigm from ‘Opportunity to Affect’ to ‘Responsibility to Respect’ – By Benjamin Thompson

Editor’s note: Benjamin Thompson is a PhD candidate in business and human rights at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. His PhD research deals with the effects of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights' endorsement of operational level, non-judicial grievance mechanisms and their role in improving access to remedy. He recently published an article for Utrecht Law Review’s Special Issue on Accountability of Multinational Corporations for Human Rights Abuses which discussed the roles the new Dutch multistakeholder initiative with the Dutch banking sector might play in improving banks’ performance with respect to human rights.


In November of last year the Asser Institute offered me the opportunity to take part in a roundtable on the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement (DBA), as part of their Doing Business Right Project. Signed in December 2017, the DBA is a collaboration between the banking sector, the government, trade unions and civil society organisations (CSOs), all based within the Netherlands: the first of its kind. It focuses on banks’ responsibility to respect human rights, as stipulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines), within their corporate lending and project finance activities. The DBA has been something of a hot topic in business and human rights circles. However, it has not yet published a public monitoring report, making any evaluation of its performance at this stage difficult. During the roundtable, we discussed the role of the DBA as a potential means to improve the practices of Dutch banks with respect to human rights. A key challenge identified from this discussion, as reported here, was the various ‘interpretive ambiguities inherent in the UNGPs’. A key conclusion was that ‘further dialogue is required... to ascertain what conduct on the part of the banks is consistent with international obligations’.

This is not a unique conclusion to arise from multistakeholder discussions on banks and human rights; the discussion often focuses on what financial institutions are required to do to meet their responsibility to respect human rights under the UNGPs. So much so that questions concerning implementation or evaluation are often left by the wayside. As a result, when presenting my research on the DBA for the Utrecht Centre of Accountability and Liability Law’s Conference on ‘Accountability and International Business Operations’, published here, I decided to focus on how the DBA had responded to those key points of friction where there is the greatest disagreement between how different stakeholders conceive banks’ human rights responsibilities. This blog post seeks to build on this previous entry, hopefully without too much repetition. More...



Transparency vs. Confidentiality: Why There Is a Need for More Transparent OECD National Contact Points - By Abdurrahman Erol

Editor’s note: Abdurrahman is currently working for Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute as an intern. He received his LL.M. International and European Law from Tilburg University and currently he is a Research Master student at the same university.


  1. Introduction

The 2011 update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (hereinafter ‘Guidelines’-for some introductory information, see here) introduced various changes to the 2000 text of the Guidelines, including a whole new chapter on human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. National Contact Points (NCPs) - non-binding, state-based, non-judicial grievance mechanisms established by the adhering states - have since then concluded approximately 60 cases submitted under the newly-introduced human rights chapter.

If an NCP believes that the issues raised in a submission merit further consideration, it accepts the complaint, prepares an initial assessment report and offers its good offices to the parties of the complaint.[1] Parties may reject the offer, accept the offer but fail to reach an agreement in the mediation or, if everything goes well, reach an agreement. In any of these scenarios, the NCP concludes the specific instance with a final assessment report.[2] Between the initial and final assessment reports, however, NCPs are not required to communicate details of the ongoing mediations to the public. Nor do they have to provide any specific details about the agreement of the parties, if at all, along with or after the final report.[3]

NCPs aim to promote the effectiveness of the Guidelines, to handle enquiries and to use a complaint procedure (so-called specific instance procedure) to facilitate settlements of disputes that may arise in case of non-compliance with the Guidelines by enterprises. Although to provide effective remedies to victims of business-related human rights abuses is not explicitly included among their aims, NCPs have the potential to serve as a forum to which victims can turn to obtain effective remedies.[4] They can receive complaints alleging the violation of internationally recognized human rights and offer mediation to the parties of the complaint to find a solution on which both parties agree upon.

In more than 20 out of these approximately 60 cases concluded, parties to the dispute reached a settlement through a mediation procedure facilitated by the NCP. These cases are considered ‘successful’ or ‘positive’ by the OECD.[5] But can these really be considered as such? Do the NCPs function as an effective grievance mechanism which provides access to remedies to victims of business-related human rights abuses in the cases they have settled? Or were these cases found successful only because the NCPs dealing with them claim so, regardless of the actual remedies provided? In this blog, I will elaborate on the concept of ‘success’ as used by the OECD and how the cloudy nature of the procedure raises questions about the successful conclusion of the cases and of the role of NCPs in this regard.More...



Business and Human Rights Internship - Asser Institute - Deadline for Application 10 August

We are looking for a new business and human rights intern starting early September 2018 for a period of at least three months, preferably full-time. The Internship will be based at the Asser Institute in The Hague.


Main tasks:

  • Contribute and develop research outputs within the Asser research project ‘Doing Business Right’, especially for the blog;
  • Assistance in day-to-day maintenance of social media accounts linked to the ‘Doing Business Right’ project;
  • Assistance in organizing upcoming events (workshops, lectures);
  • Assist in legal research and analysis in the frame of academic publications.

Interested candidates should have:

  • Demonstrated interest in legal issues lying at the intersection of transnational business, human rights, private international law, and global value chains regulation. An interest in transnational law and private regulations are an advantage;
  • Solid academic and non-academic writing skills, research and analytical skills;
  • A master degree in EU law, private or public international law or international relations;
  • Excellent command of written and spoken English, preferably at a native speaker level;
  • Experience with managing websites and social media communication is of an advantage.

What we offer:

  • A stipend, based on the level of education completed;
  • Exposure to the academic activities of the research strand ‘Advancing public interests in international and European law’, and the T.M.C Asser Instituut, a leading research centre in International and European law;
  • An inspiring, dynamic and multicultural working environment.


Interested candidates should apply by email, sending a motivation letter and CV in English, a sample of academic writing (master’s thesis or paper from a course relevant to the topics of the research project ‘Doing Business Right’) to both A.Duval@asser.nl and E.Partiti@asser.nl.


Deadline for application is 10 August 2018, 12.00 PM CET.


Please note: We cannot offer assistance in obtaining residence and work permits for the duration of the internship.

Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...



Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – May 2018 - By Abdurrahman Erol

Introduction

This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to contribute to this compilation via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.

Highlights

OECD Due Diligence Guidance released

On 31 May, the OECD published “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct”. Issued after a multi-stakeholder process with OECD and non-OECD countries and representatives from business, trade unions and civil society, the guidance provides practical knowledge to businesses on due diligence recommendations and related provisions of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The guidance also aims at aligning different approaches of governments and stakeholders to due diligence for responsible business conduct by promoting a common understanding.More...

New Policy Brief - The Case for a Court of Arbitration for Business and Human Rights - By Antoine Duval & Catherine Dunmore

Two members of the Doing Business Right team, Antoine Duval and Catherine Dunmore have just published a policy brief feeding into the current debates on the use (and usefulness) of arbitration in the business and human rights context. More precisely, the brief makes the case for the creation of a single Court of Arbitration for Business and Human Rights. 

Here is the abstract: 

This policy brief makes the case for a single Court of Arbitration for Business and Human Rights (CABHR). It first highlights the challenges faced by victims of human rights violations caused or directly linked to the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) in accessing effective remedy. It then discusses the opportunities and challenges in using arbitration to provide a remedy in the business and human rights context. If arbitration is to be used, we argue that it should be in the framework of a single CABHR, which could draw some inspiration from the structure and operation of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The policy brief concludes by highlighting four core issues which stakeholders should focus on in the process of setting up a CABHR.

You can download the paper for free on SSRN.

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – March & April 2018 - By Abdurrahman Erol

Introduction

This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to complete this compilation via the comments section below. Feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines

Shell-Eni Bribery Case: On 5 March, the corporate bribery trial against oil companies Shell and Eni was postponed to 14 May by a court in Milan, Italy.  The charges against the companies are bribery and corruption in the 2011 purchase of a Nigerian offshore oilfield, one of the most valuable oilfields in Africa. Although both firms denied the charges, the corruption watchdog Global Witness claimed that hundreds of millions of dollars had been paid to Nigeria’s former president and his former oil minister as pocket bribes. Global Witness calls the case one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the oil sector. The trial in the Milan court is expected to last 12-18 months.

Jesner v. Arab Bank: On 24 April, in a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Jesner v. Arab Bank case that foreign corporations cannot be brought before US courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Between 2004 and 2010, thousands of foreign nationals sued Arab Bank under the ATS, claiming that the Bank’s officials allowed money transfers through the New York branch of the Bank to Hamas who committed violent acts in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Supreme Court held that foreign corporations cannot be sued under the ATS. Furthermore, the Court claimed that international law today does not recognize “a specific, universal, and obligatory norm of corporate [tort] liability”, which is a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit under the ATS. In the Court’s lead opinion, Justice Kennedy stated that "Courts are not well suited to make the required policy judgments that are implicated by corporate liability in cases like this one.” In her dissenting opinion joined by three other justices, Justice Sotomayor claimed that the decision "absolves corporations from responsibility under the ATS for conscience-shocking behavior."

Fifth Anniversary of Rana Plaza: April 24th also marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rana Plaza was a five-story commercial building which housed several garment factories employing around 5000 people. The global outcry after the disaster which claimed at least 1134 lives led to numerous initiatives to change business-as-usual in the garment and textile supply chains in Bangladesh and beyond. Despite these initiatives which employed various approaches to the issue of worker safety in the supply chains, it is widely acknowledged that there is still a long way to go to create a safe working environment for workers in the garment and textile supply chains. On 12 April, the Asser Institute hosted a one-day conference on Rana Plaza to take stock of the regulatory and policy initiatives aimed at improving workers’ safety in the garment supply chain (You will find our background paper here).

 Okpabi v. Royal Dutch Shell - Episode. 3? On 27 April, more than 40 UK and international human rights, development and environment NGOs, later supported by academics from different states, urged the UK Supreme Court to allow two Nigerian fishing communities to appeal against the Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell ruling of the Court of Appeal in February which denied responsibility for UK-based Royal Dutch Shell for the pipeline spills, dating back as far as 1989, which affected approximately 40000 Nigerian farmers and fishermen. The NGOs claimed that the Court of Appeal’s decision erred in many ways as it seriously restricts parent company liability and limits the options available to victims of corporate human rights violations seeking remedy in the UK.More...


New Event! The Jesner ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court: The ‘end of the beginning’ for corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute - 24 May at the Asser Institute in The Hague

The headline of the New York Times on 24 April summed it up: ‘Supreme Court Bars Human Rights Suits Against Foreign Corporations. The Jesner decision, released earlier that day by the U.S. Supreme Court, triggered a tremor of indignation in the human rights movement given the immunity it conferred to foreign corporations violating human rights against suits under the Alien Tort Statute, and led to a flood of legal and academic commentaries online. This panel discussion, organised with the support of the Netherlands Network of Human Rights Research, will address various aspects of the judgment. Its aim is to better understand the road travelled by American courts leading up to the decision with regard to the application of the Alien Tort Statute to corporations, to compare the decision with the position taken in other jurisdictions, and to discuss the ruling's potential broader impact on the direction taken by the business and human rights movement.


Where: T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague

When: Thursday 24 May at 2:30 pm


Speakers:

  • Phillip Paiement (Tilburg University) - The Jesner case and the ATS: An American perspective
  • Lucas Roorda (Utrecht University) - A comparative perspective on Jesner and corporate liability for human rights violations
  • Nadia Bernaz (Wageningen University) - Lessons for the business and human rights movement after Jesner


Register here!

Five Years Later: Evaluating the French and Dutch responses to Rana Plaza - By Abdurrahman Erol

Editor’s note: Abdurrahman is currently working for Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute as an intern. He received his LL.M. International and European Law from Tilburg University and currently he is a Research Master student at the same university.

 

The collapse of the Rana Plaza attracted public attention from various parts of the world. As a result, the demand to ensure that businesses do not contribute to or commit human rights violations, particularly multinational enterprises (MNEs) which can easily engage in forum shopping between states with lax regulations, started to make itself heard. This increased public interest drove national governments to start addressing this issue in an attempt to prevent MNEs from getting involved in human rights abuses along their supply chains.  In this respect, to deal with the human rights abuses committed by MNEs in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector and beyond, numerous transnational and national initiatives have emerged in different forms since the Rana Plaza disaster. These initiatives include agreements (e.g. the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety)  with binding commitments, traditional voluntary CSR-based multi-stakeholder initiatives (e.g. the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety), domestic legal (e.g. the UK Modern Slavery Act and the French law on the duty of vigilance), administrative measures (e.g. the reform of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments in Bangladesh for better factory and labour inspections) or agreements between governmental bodies, businesses and some other stakeholders (e.g. the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textile).

These concerted efforts, to ensure responsible business conduct show an extreme variety in terms of their scope, approaches and parties involved.  In particular, the French law on the duty of vigilance and the Dutch agreement on sustainable garment will be the focus on this blog since while the adoption of the former was accelerated by the disaster, the latter was an indirect response to it. It is crucial to scrutinise the implementation of these initiatives and whether or not they positively transform the business-as-usual in the RMG sector. In this blog, after brief explanations of the French and Dutch initiatives, some of the concerns and problems, which may be encountered in their implementation process, will be presented. More...