OHCHR | 14 October 2021
States must stop prioritizing investment over human rights – UN experts
NEW YORK (14 October 2021) – UN experts today called on States to ensure that international investment agreements do not provide a “safe harbour” for investors to abuse the human rights of individuals and communities.
“Too often, investors receive privileged treatment under international investment agreements, while people impacted by the projects suffer,” said Surya Deva, Chair of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. “States must make sure that human rights are at the heart of future investment agreements, and that existing agreements are reformed to promote responsible business conduct.”
He made the call for urgent fundamental and transformative reform of the international investment regime in presenting the Working Group’s report to the UN General Assembly. The report looks particularly at Principle 9 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsthat reminds States, when negotiating trade and investment agreements, to retain adequate policy space and regulatory ability to protect human rights.
“Most existing international investment agreements reflect three ‘I’s: imbalance, inconsistency and irresponsibility,” Deva said. “Imbalance because investors’ rights grossly outweigh their obligations. Inconsistency in the way investors, in comparison to affected communities, are able to settle disputes. All of which contributes to irresponsibility on the part of investors.”
The on-going multilateral process of Working Group III of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which will hold its next session during 15-19 November 2021, offers a prime opportunity to make systemic changes to the current international investment regime.
“Cosmetic changes will not address structural problems of international investment law,” Deva said. “States must harness international investment agreements to preserve space to exercise their duty to regulate, impose human rights obligations on investors, and replace the investor-State dispute settlement with a mechanism which is fairer to all parties.”
Changes must be made in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global framework that sets out the obligations of States and the responsibilities of business to prevent and address business-related human rights abuse.
The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry.
The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Group reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected by governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.
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