Upholding Human Rights in the Face of Corporate Exploitation

A Call to Action

Introduction

International Law, as the cornerstone of our globally interconnected society, establishes a vital framework guiding nations’ behaviour and facilitating collaboration on a worldwide scale, rooted in principles such as shared responsibility, mutual respect, and the pursuit of peace. Central to this framework is the principle of pacta sunt servanda, which underscores the sanctity of international agreements and treaties, fostering stability, trust, and dispute resolution among nations. Upholding this principle ensures that negotiated agreements serve as credible tools for conflict resolution and the advancement of common objectives. Additionally, the adoption of the International Binding Treaty by the United Nations would further safeguard citizens worldwide, particularly those in the global south.

Understanding Human Rights

Human rights are fundamental to the fabric of society, serving as the bedrock of justice and dignity for all individuals, regardless of geography or social status. However, the realization of these rights often faces significant challenges, particularly in the context of economic exploitation perpetuated by powerful entities such as transnational corporations (TNCs). Despite the legal framework surrounding human rights, violations persist, underscoring the need for concerted action to address systemic injustices.

One avenue through which human rights are articulated and protected is through legal instruments, both at the domestic and international levels. The International Bill of Rights, comprising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), provide a foundational framework for the protection of human rights globally. However, the mere existence of legal instruments is not sufficient; effective implementation and enforcement are paramount.

The extraction and utilization of raw materials, particularly minerals and metals, for energy transition raise significant environmental concerns. International environmental law, including conventions such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), provide a legal framework for addressing these concerns. Principles such as sustainable development, the precautionary principle, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities are central to international environmental law and have implications for resource extraction activities in both Europe and Africa.

Challenges, Realities and Violations of Human Rights

In many democratic nations, including those in Africa, the protection of human rights is enshrined in state constitutions, often accompanied by bills of rights. These legal safeguards serve as a bulwark against arbitrary infringements on individual freedoms and liberties. Yet, the efficacy of these protections relies heavily on the independence of the judiciary and, even more, on the willingness of governments to uphold and enforce them, which can be compromised by factors such as corruption or undue influence from powerful interests.

The consequences of these human rights abuses are profound, extending beyond individual communities to impact entire regions. Economic disparities widen, environmental resources are depleted, and social cohesion is undermined, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. Additionally, the escalation of corporate impunity presents a substantial peril to human rights, exacerbating the marginalization of susceptible demographics and undermining democratic tenets.

One glaring instance of human rights violations perpetuated by corporate interests is exemplified in the case of SIAT, a European-based corporation operating extensive oil palm and rubber plantations in West Africa. Supported by multinational financial institutions and aided by weak regulatory frameworks, SIAT’s expansion has resulted in widespread land grabbing, environmental degradation, and the displacement of indigenous communities. Despite assertions of customary land tenure, local populations are frequently forcibly displaced to accommodate corporate interests, thereby eroding their cultural heritage and jeopardizing their livelihoods.

The SIAT case epitomizes a scenario where the state turns against its own citizens. The land grabbing facilitated by SIAT is endorsed by governments in West African countries where the corporation has invested. Essentially, this entails the allocation of land by the government to multinational corporations (MNCs) that is already inhabited by local communities. When local inhabitants resist, the government dispatches armed police officers and, in some instances, military personnel to forcibly evict them under the guise of foreign investment and development.

Instances like that of SIAT, reminiscent of numerous other occurrences of large-scale land acquisitions across Africa, underscore the prevalent issue of the absence of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) from local communities. FPIC necessitates the thorough sensitization of all stakeholders within local communities until they possess a clear understanding of available choices and their implications. While AEFJN has endeavoured to facilitate such training initiatives, challenges persist due to the reluctance of state actors to cooperate, perpetuating a constriction of civic space.

The Role of International Binding Treaty in Addressing Human Rights Abuses

In light of the pervasive impunity observed at a global scale due to the actions of Multinational Corporations (MNCs), various international stakeholders, including faith-based institutions such as Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), have mobilized to advocate for the dismantling of corporate impunity and the restoration of human rights.

The International Binding Treaty has put in focus how to handle both the host state and the MNCs, hence, the citizens will have recourse to justice at different intervals.

Acknowledging the intricate web of human rights violations, the International Binding Treaty endeavours to embrace a comprehensive approach addressing the root causes of injustice. This encompasses legal reforms, accountability measures, heightened awareness campaigns, empowerment of marginalized communities, and fostering solidarity among stakeholders. AEFJN, staunch in its commitment to social justice and human dignity, is keen in championing the adoption and implementation of the International Binding Treaty.

The forthcoming Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group for the UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations presents a pivotal juncture to propel corporate accountability and advance global justice. Through galvanizing civil society, governmental, and international backing, we aim to advocate for robust regulations and enforcement mechanisms to counter corporate exploitation and safeguard human rights.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the struggle for human rights is an ongoing endeavour that requires collective action and unwavering commitment. As advocates for justice and dignity, we must stand in solidarity with the oppressed, confront corporate exploitation, and uphold the principles of human rights for all individuals. Through concerted efforts and collaboration across sectors, we can build a more just and equitable world, where human rights are respected and protected for generations to come. We call upon all of us to spread the message about International Binding Treaty.

By: Elvis Ng’andwe, M.Afr. (Executive Secretary at AEFJN-Brussels-Belgium)

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