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Mon Oct 28, 2019, 11:18 AM

UN treaty on business and human rights vital for economic and social justice

How can transnational corporations be held to account in a world of nation states? A binding UN treaty would be an important step. The global economic model has failed working people. The power and greed of huge corporations have captured governments, which are acting against the rights and interests of their own workers.


The current model of trade—the bulk of it tied to global supply chains, in highly-competitive, low-cost markets—means that jobs created by transnational companies are too often based on exploitation without decent working standards. Ninety-four per cent of the global workforce of the top 50 corporations is hidden in supply chains, where the obscurity of business contracts facilitates this exploitation and too often a dehumanising oppression—even inclusive of modern slavery, along with low wages, short-term or precarious contracts and unsafe work environments.

In addition, new frontiers have emerged with the monopoly dominance of giant technology companies—with the power they exercise by controlling data—and platforms, whose business models have little or no connection to national laws, taxation systems or employment responsibility.

Decent work

Transnational business cannot and will not be sustainable unless it is based on the principles of decent work. Yet international law is not well equipped to address cross-border corporate abuses of human and labour rights. The traditional approach of obliging states to hold solely to account perpetrators of abuses within their own borders no longer corresponds to the realities of a global economy.

Companies are operating as vast de facto networks of nominally national-level entities, each protected by the corporate veil shielding them from being held accountable. Even when it comes to the subsidiaries of transnational companies, which are either directly or indirectly controlled by their parents, there is often no avenue for access to justice. When it comes to seeking remedies locally, workers continue to face enormous legal and practical barriers—not least because local companies are often deliberately under-capitalised, essentially making them judgment-proof.


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