UN Global Goals: A missed opportunity in the fight for corporate accountability

| September 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

Bangladesh_garment factoryOpinion by The European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ)

Although rooted in international human rights commitments, the UN Sustainable Development Goals are a missed opportunity to stand for the protection of human rights against corporate impunity.

The UN General Assembly adopted its Global Goals for 2030 on 25 September in New York and set new worldwide targets for tackling poverty, inequality and climate change. Also known as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 17 objectives are the result of a three year multi-stakeholder negotiation and consultation process, and come as a replacement for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000.

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), a coalition of 250 organizations calling for improved corporate accountability and access to justice, welcomes the SDGs’ anchorage in international human rights commitments, particularly the prioritization of poverty eradication, reducing inequality and discrimination, and acting against environmental destruction and climate change.

But given the scale of the private sector’s impact on people’s lives and the fact that most corporate abuses take place in the developing world, we believe the SDGs are a missed opportunity for the UN to show serious commitment to safeguarding human rights and to placing people ahead of business interests.

“The SDGs’ emphasis on the positive aspects of business, without any reference to the possible negative impacts of enterprises, betrays an agenda which tilts in favour of corporations, not citizens,” said ECCJ Coordinator Jerome Chaplier.

The 17 Goals fail to reflect the complexity of today’s world: in an increasingly globalised market, big corporations are responsible for some of the worst social and ecological disasters, but manage to escape accountability due to the cross-border nature of their operations, complex corporate structures and the lack of political will to address impunity.

The duty to prevent corporate misconduct and protect against rights violations falls primarily on states. Unfortunately, the SDGs only talk about state encouragement of good practices and promotion of voluntary reporting.

“This old recipe of rewards and recognition for good business has been proven time and again to be ineffective and very costly for people and the environment,” observed ECCJ Coordinator, Jerome Chaplier.

Before their adoption last week, the SDGs were criticized by civil society organisations and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for failing to include a commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and not setting out stringent requirements to improve corporate accountability. Surprisingly or not, only one mention of the UNGPs was added to the final draft of the Global Partnership.

Lastly, while Goal 16 mentions access to justice, together with a commitment to establish accountable institutions, there is no reference of the progress being made in the UN Human Rights Council on developing an international legally binding instrument (UN Treaty) on business and human rights and the impact it could have on removing the insurmountable obstacles1 faced by victims of unscrupulous corporate behaviour.

Due to the urgent need for a global approach to ending corporate impunity and the visible shortcomings of the existing UN instruments, ECCJ believes the 193 signatory countries must look beyond the SDGs when it comes to demonstrating a commitment to human rights protection.

Therefore, ECCJ calls on all states to participate in good faith in the process of developing a UN Treaty on business and human rights that would amend the balance of power between people and companies and fix the current gaps in international regulations on corporate liability for human rights violations.

In addition to constructive engagement at a global level, ECCJ appeals to the EU and its 28 Member States to address the key issues of corporate due diligence and access to remedy for victims through improved European and national legislation.


For more information, contact Sandra Juncu, ECCJ Communications Officer:
[email protected]
+32 (0)2 893 10 26

1 Currently, for a victim to access judicial remedy in transnational cases they have to face a major jurisdictional challenge, take on the added impediment of living in states with weak governance and lack of independent justice, go against the complex corporate structures of multinational corporations separated in multiple legal entities with limited liability, and finally overcome great practical and financial barriers.


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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Opinion, United Nations, World

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