Legally bind businesses to respect human rights, says ACT Alliance

(Photo: REUTERS / Erlend Aas / NTB Scanpix)Norway's Finance Minister Siv Jensen presents a parliamentary report on the Norwegian Pension fund (Oil fund) in Oslo April 4, 2014. Norway's 0 billion oil fund should scale up its investments in renewable energy and weigh the risk to future returns posed by climate change, the finance ministry said on Friday, a shift green groups said was insufficient. The switch is part of government reforms of the fund - the biggest of its kind in the world - that also include changes to its ethical guidelines and a review of its activities in emerging markets.

A meeting at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva must initiate a first-ever internationally binding legal instrument to hold corporations that violate human rights accountable, the ACT Alliance has said.

"It is time to ensure that everybody, including powerful corporations, respect human rights and start being held legally accountable for their actions and inactions," said Pauliina Parhiala, deputy general secretary at ACT Alliance in a June 17 statement.

The statement comes at time that major church leaders have been speaking out about ethical business practices including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the senior bishop in the 88-million Anglican Communion.

Pope Francis on Monday expressed appreciation for a conference on ethical investment pointing out that the world of finance must serve the interests of peoples and the common good of humanity, Vatican Radio reported.

In a statement to participants of the two-day Vatican symposium "Investing for the Poor," the Francis said that speculation on food prices is a scandal.

He called on governments throughout the world to develop an international framework that promotes a market of high impact investments, and thus combat an economy which excludes and discards.

The symposium was jointly sponsored by the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Catholic Relief Services and the Mendoza College of Business from the University of Notre Dame.

The symposium set out to explore core concepts of impact investing, and how they align with church mission and to discern how the Church might use or promote impact investing to serve the poor.

ACT's Parhiala said, "We have seen people kicked off their lands with empty promises from transnational corporations. The result is that they lose access to livelihoods, clinics, schools and more, with no repercussions on these corporations.

"This is exploitation and a clear violation of human rights. We see the need for an internationally legally-binding instrument to hold those corporations that engage in this behaviour accountable."

ACT Alliance is a coalition of more than 140 churches and affiliated organizations in over 140 countries working to create sustainable change in the lives of poor and marginalized people. Its members are associated with the World Council of Churches or the Lutheran World Federation.


Commenting on the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council taking place from June 10 to 27, ACT Alliance urged parties to begin a process of developing a binding international treaty on business and human rights.

The alliance has joined over 460 organisations which have signed a "Call for an international legally binding instrument on human rights, transnational corporations and other business enterprises."

It said it hopes the U.N. meeting will see progress towards better protection of human rights in the face of corporate-related abuses.

ACT's Parhiala argued that more protection by States for their people against corporate human rights abuses would provide more chances for sustainable development respectful of the human and environmental rights.

"Corporations that implement their projects responsibly should have nothing to be concerned about, and many corporations consider it only fair that those enterprises that respect human rights should expect all other corporations to be held to the same standards," Parhiala said.

"We implore the governments to stand on the side of the communities, peoples and nations affected by corporate human rights violations with limited access to remedies. We hope to have the opportunity to work with governments in support of this initiative."

ACT Alliance said it will cohost an event on June 24 at the Palais des nations UN Office in Geneva, titled "Towards an international legally binding instrument to end corporate-related abuses of human rights."

At the event it will provide examples of human rights infringements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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