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African Regional Indaba on UN binding treaty takes place this week

Civil society organisations are hosting the fifth African Regional Indaba on the UN binding treaty on business and human rights at the ANEW Hotel Parktonian in Johannesburg on 20 and 21 June 2024. 

In the lead-up to the tenth session of negotiations of the UN binding treaty on business and human rights, the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) are hosting the fourth African regional Indaba on the UN binding treaty on business and human rights this week. 

Known formally as the “Legally Binding Instrument to Regulate, in International Human Rights Law, the Activities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises”, the purpose of the treaty is to address human rights abuses by transnational corporations across borders. The treaty was first proposed to the United Nations Human Rights Council by Ecuador and South Africa in 2014. A working group was then established to develop a draft of the treaty, which was published in 2018. Since then, four different drafts have been proposed and discussed at the United Nations in Geneva. Only once the draft is accepted, signed, and ratified by states will it begin to come into force. 

Civil society organisations have been instrumental in the treaty process so far, working to ensure that the treaty will be effective and reflect the needs of the people it is meant to benefit and protect. In particular, women, affected communities, and human rights defenders in the Global South. Our organisations have been involved in the treaty process since 2014, hosting platforms to learn about the treaty process and the needs of communities and ensure they speak to each other. This includes the regional indaba. 

The regional indaba brings together representatives of affected communities, civil society organisations, academics, trade unionists, and states to discuss the progress made on the treaty so far and to prepare for the next round of negotiations at the United Nations later in the year. Our main goal is to ensure that African perspectives are included in the negotiations and ultimately in the final draft of the treaty so as to ensure that the treaty is responsive to the lived realities of African communities who are disproportionately impacted by the activities of transnational corporations. 

This year’s indaba is scheduled to be an in-person event over two days on 20 and 21 June 2024 in Johannesburg. The sessions over two days will be divided into thematic areas covering issues of gender, extractivism, labour, livelihoods, host communities’ rights, environmental damage, due diligence and, importantly, the severe human rights impacts of the critical minerals rush on the continent. Each session will be a collaboration between the communities affected by transnational corporations’ violations and experts who will give an analysis on how to strengthen the Treaty in the particular theme of the session. 

“The challenges of the last few years illustrate that the negotiation process is under threat through attempts to weaken the text and even to dismantle the process totally. However, the strong position adopted by global south states led by the Africa group and supported by civil society organisations during the 2023 negotiations illustrate a steadfastness to keeping the process on track and in line with Resolution 26/9 ahead of this year’s negotiations,” says Maxine Bezuidenhout of AIDC. 

Furthermore, Anesu Dera from CALS emphasises that “Civil society organizations must be commended for spearheading efforts in hosting capacitation workshops for states on the treaty negotiation process and advocating for increased participation by Global South states. Only through the involvement of African states can the voices of marginalised communities from the region be included in the text and their rights defended.”

Jessica Lawrence of LHR notes that “we anticipate seeing further pushback by the U.S and the EU during the treaty negotiations this year due to the most recent approval of the long-awaited EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, which introduces a duty on certain companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence, by the Council of the European Union. We must continue to reiterate that due diligence is not sufficient for the protection of human rights and that a treaty is needed to provide legal solutions to address current gaps and ambiguities in the international human rights law framework, which the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive cannot do.”

For further information contact:

Maxine Bezuidenhout 

Alternative Information and Development Centre 

Anesu Dera

Centre for Applied Legal Studies 

Jessica Lawrence

Lawyers for Human Rights

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