Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein

Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, sixth session, 26-30 October

Australia’s views regarding the process to elaborate a legally binding instrument regulating the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Australia is not participating in the sixth session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on the elaboration of a treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.  This decision reflects our continued opposition to this process and ongoing concerns regarding the content of the revised draft treaty. 

Australia is committed to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which provide an important framework for ensuring better standards and practices by states and businesses with respect to business and human rights.  Crucially, the development of the UNGPs reflected the importance of a pragmatic, multi-stakeholder and consensus-based approach to business and human rights issues.  By contrast, the process for developing a draft legally binding instrument was not endorsed by consensus.  Furthermore, consultations have not meaningfully engaged with, nor reflected, the concerns repeatedly expressed by a number of governments, including Australia, and other key stakeholders.

Australia continues to have concerns with the text of the proposed draft treaty, including its scope, ambiguous definitions and application, and inconsistency with other international laws and standards, including international human rights laws.  As it is drafted, the proposed treaty cannot provide a practical and principled approach to avoid and address adverse effects of business activities on human rights.

A divisive, ambiguous and punitive legally binding instrument with potentially limited ratification by UN member states would prevent broader, more coherent implementation of the UNGPs by states and businesses and would therefore be counter-productive to the business and human rights agenda going forward. 

We acknowledge that obstacles remain to the realisation of the key objectives of the UNGPs, including improved access to effective remedies by individuals affected by business-related human rights abuses.  However, current efforts by governments and businesses to implement the UNGPs - through innovative partnerships with civil society and other stakeholders, regulation, standards-setting and other initiatives – have already had a positive impact. The upcoming tenth anniversary of the UNGPs in 2021 provides an opportunity for further consideration of additional ways to realise the UNGPs and progress the business and human rights agenda.