Putting women before profits

Christina Cadore | Oct 14, 2019

A guide to the UN binding treaty on business and human rights

Big businesses and transnational corporations operate in many countries around the world. These businesses have so much wealth and power that they can operate in any way they want. This means that some of them abuse the rights of the people, communities and environments they operate in. Their political influence threatens women’s human rights and undermines decisions that should be made for the benefit of everyday people. Now we have an opportunity to put people before profits, but how?

feminist for a binding treaty

How do corporations affect women’s rights?

The way big businesses work across the world is causing great harm to millions of people and the planet. From land-grabbing and displacements, to the contamination of water and soil and to the loss of lives of women human rights defenders, the impact of powerful corporations is felt everywhere.

When there is little regulation or it is not enforced by governments, corporations can force employees to work long, intensive hours with very little pay and in poor working conditions. As women are more likely to work in more insecure industries such as the garment industries, this puts their health and safety at risk. Meanwhile low wages mean women and their families remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.

In countries like Uganda, corporate abuse of women’s human rights takes the form of land grabs. Corporations are evicting women from their land to make way for new factories or to extract natural resources such as oil. Women and their families are being forced into displacement camps around the country, pushing them into poverty and putting them at increased risk of violence.  

What can we do about these abuses?

We don’t have to put up with big corporations acting above the law and putting profit over people. Right now, there aren’t any international laws or polices in place that hold these big corporations to account. We need an international legal structure that punishes these transnational companies when they abuse our human rights: that’s exactly what the binding treaty sets out to do.

What is a binding treaty?

A treaty is a set of rules agreed by the 47 countries who form the United Nations Human Rights Council. When governments sign up to treaties they agree to put laws and structures in place to improve the lives of their citizens. The treaty then becomes legally binding or enforceable.

What will a binding treaty on business and human rights do?

The binding treaty on business and human rights looks specifically at how businesses operate to make sure they are in line with our human rights. It will work in three key ways to protect human rights:

  1. The duty of governments: it will reinforce governments’ obligation to uphold the rights of their citizens and protect them from corporate abuses. This includes implementing laws on things like working conditions and making sure the minimum wage is enough to live a dignified life.
  2. The responsibility of businesses and transnational corporations: it will make sure corporations take action to ensure that they respect human rights and are not causing harm to individuals, communities, or the environments they operate in.
  3. Routes to justice: it will give power to the people and communities affected by human rights abuses to launch legal cases against corporations and access justice and compensation.

Why now?

Right now, governments are in talks to discuss whether there should be a binding treaty on business and human rights.  As part of the Feminist for a Binding Treaty group, Womankind, along with our partners and allies, will be attending these discussions in Geneva. We will push for a strong agreement that fully protects and promotes the rights of all women. Now is our opportunity to demand that our governments help create a world that puts women before profits by regulating corporate activities and holding businesses to account for their actions.

How can you get involved?

  • You can follow the discussions on twitter through the hashtag #BindingTreaty and #Feminists4BindingTreaty.
  • You can find out more about the binding treaty by watching AWID’s video.
  • You can raise awareness on the binding treaty on business and human rights by sharing this post with friends.

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