SP: 'Binding human rights treaty for corporations'

8 October 2010

SP: 'Binding human rights treaty for corporations'

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is calling on the Committee of Ministers, which directly represents the Council of Europe's forty-seven member states, to look into the question of how European corporations can be held to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including when operating outside the continent. The PACE move was initiated by a proposal from SP Senator Tuur Elzinga.

Tuur ElzingaIn the week that the sixty-year existence of the ECHR was celebrated in the Assembly, a debate was held on 'human rights and business'. Occasioning the debate was a remarkably thorough report from German Christian Democrat Holger Haibach (CDU). In his report Haibach, on behalf of the Assembly's Human Rights Committee, offered an extended oversight of different initiatives and instruments for corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Found in a range of codes of conduct for CSR for international business are a number of commitments regarding human rights, including social and labour rights, but none of these is binding. "Haibach's report is extremely critical with regard to the legal vacuum in relation to this as well as over the lack of balance, " says Elzinga. "A European corporation can, via the ECHR, complain if the 'human rights' of the company are abridged, but an individual, a human being, from for instance an African country in which his or her human rights have been abridged by a European corporation, has no right to bring this to the attention of the Court in Strasbourg."

Elzinga notes that, despite the rapporteur's sound analysis, the Human Rights Committee's recommendations are once more stuck in the realm of good intentions. He therefore proposed, on behalf of the Economic Committee, a number of amendments, including the proposal for a request to be sent to the Committee of Ministers for an enquiry into the possibility of a treaty binding on European corporations under international law. The Economic Committee and the Human Rights Committee both carried the proposal unanimously prior to its adoption by the Assembly as a whole.

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