We the undersigned feminists, women’s rights groups and civil society allies from all over the world call on governments to support the legally-binding instrument on transnational corporations and human rights. The negotiations at the United Nations is the very chance for Member States to demonstrate political will to put economic justice, environmental justice, gender justice and accountability to people above corporate interests.
The time is now for UN Member States to finally fulfill their obligation to respect, promote and protect human rights and the environment, and put an end to corporate impunity.
The scale and impact of corporate operations across the world is causing great harm to millions of people and the environment: from land-grabbing and displacements to the contamination of water and soil, to the loss of lives of women human rights defenders protecting their fundamental human rights, livelihoods, freedoms and territories. Thousands of trade and investment agreements safeguard corporate interests, without any respect for the free, prior and informed consent, consultation of affected communities, nor any corresponding regulatory framework to protect human rights and the environment from corporate abuse.
We, women, girls and people of all gender, age, racial and ethnic identities experience rights violations, violence and discrimination by corporations. Patriarchy, racism and capitalism work together in oppressing women, particularly in the Global South and in marginalised communities:
- We produce most of the food in the world and yet are the most likely to suffer from extreme level of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, loss of land, water and livelihoods.● We are employed in the most precarious working environments with least labour protection (e.g. informal sector & rural women workers), earn the lowest wages and shoulder the vast majority of the world’s unpaid care work.
- We experience massive violations of labour rights, attacks to our right to organise and freedom of association, and sexualised violence at work.
- We are most affected by land-grabbing, community displacements and massive extraction of natural resources, yet denied of access to land and excluded from decision-making, compensation and access to justice.
- We bear the brunt of militarised corporate activities, which enable multiple cases of rape by public and private security forces and attacks against women human rights defenders.
- We are most affected by all forms of tax injustice and the privatization of public services, often driven by trade and investment agreements and austerity policies imposed by international financial institutions.
- We are most significantly affected by climate change and extreme weather events fuelled by the fossil fuel industries and Global North countries. Women are more likely to be killed during disasters and face an increased risk of gender-based and sexual violence during disasters.
- We face threats, criminalisation, repressions, gender-based and sexual violence and even killings because of our work to resist corporate abuses in defense of human rights, fundamental freedoms and accountable democracy.
We recognize that the current global economic system is built to prioritise profit over people’s lives and the environment. Transnational corporations in particular, are able to escape accountability because of legal loopholes that enable impunity at multiple levels, undermining democracy and the rule of law. The unprecedented level of power transnational corporations enjoy through trade and investment agreements’ investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses are particularly concerning. They grant one-sided power to corporations to nullify national laws and policies if they reduce ‘investors’ expected profits. States’ legitimate regulatory space to establish public social policies, protect human rights and hold corporations accountable is fundamentally undermined by growing corporate power, corporate capture and the power structures that further cements this.
Transnational corporations exploit ideas of feminism and gender equality to improve their image in some countries, while systematically abusing women’s human rights in other parts of the world. We note with significant concern that women’s empowerment, once a radical feminist idea of transforming society, has been manipulated and reduced to individualistic focus on self-esteem, entrepreneurship, and consumerism.
We reject these propaganda of “corporate feminism” and “corporate social responsibility”. An agenda limited to work-life balance, having more women in managerial positions or parental leaves fails to tackle the systemic corporate abuse against women. These neoliberal and corporate versions of feminism fundamentally reinforce the exploitative nature of women’s labour under capitalism, fail to challenge patriarchy and white supremacy, and advance the belief that women’s liberation can be achieved within the existing economic model.
We insist that an instrumental approach to gender equality as a means to achieve economic growth, while ignoring corporate human rights abuses, will only further entrench gender discrimination, poverty, labour exploitation and result in growing inequalities between countries, the rich and the poor and between men and women.
We know that business interests interfere with political decisions. Corporations today hold more economic power than many States. Their political influence and the corporate capture of decision-making threaten women’s human rights and gravely undermine decisions that should be made in the public interest, not for corporate profits.
➪ We urge States to stop eroding their duty to regulate business and protect the environment and people through trade and investment agreements and to live up to their responsibility to protect human rights, including by safeguarding political institutions from the undue influence of corporations and said trade and investment agreements.
➪ We demand that States take a bold and responsible step to regulate corporate activities, make political and legal decisions to prioritise people and environment over corporate interest/profits and advance gender equality and women’s human rights regardless of gender, race, ethnicity.
➪ We call on women and feminist allies around the world to support an international legally-binding instrument to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses.
Together, we join efforts to mobilise for a treaty that acknowledges the disproportionate and gender specific impacts of corporate abuse, adopts a non-discrimination and gender justice approach and ensures women’s access to justice, and explicitly recognises and protects Women Human Rights Defenders challenging corporate power and impunity in defense of rights, people and nature.