groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)
Friends of the Earth International

RIGHTS FOR PEOPLE, RULES FOR BUSINESS - Friends of the Earth International calls for legally binding UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights

Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 20 October 2016 – From 24 to 28 October, UN negotiations that could provide a historic opportunity for justice and an end to corporate impunity will resume in Geneva [1].

The talks are taking place in a critical context of global climate, biodiversity, financial, food and humanitarian crises, for which transnational corporations are largely responsible, but which impact the vulnerable most, mainly people in the Global South. Companies’ operations systematically result in environmental crimes, and the intimidation of activists defending their rights and the environment [2]. Just last week, a community leader of Honduras’ COPINH movement, which has been at the forefront of the grassroots opposition to the controversial Agua Zarca and other hydro projects for many years, suffered yet another assassination attempt [3].

“A legally binding instrument to control transnational corporations with respect to human rights and provide victims of corporate abuse with justice is long overdue. What is currently happening in Honduras is just one of the many examples of the systemic rights violations suffered by activists and communities on a daily basis around the world. Transnational companies and their international financiers are responsible for these violations. We call on governments to stand with social movements and affected people worldwide to demand a binding Treaty and engage constructively in this new round of negotiations”, said Lucia Ortiz, Friends of the Earth International.

Many transnational corporations are richer and more powerful than the states trying to regulate them. For decades, they have successfully managed to block the emergence of binding regulation through heavy lobbying and corporate capture of key decision-making processes. As a result businesses are rarely held to account and communities and the environment continue to pay the price.

“National laws and court systems are hardly independent and also not respected by transnational oil companies, like Shell. Justice delayed is justice denied. Hence the need for a world environmental court that can dispense cases in a timely fashion and with enforcement mechanisms established by a UN binding Treaty.” Godwin Ojo, executive director of Earth Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

Friends of the Earth International will be joining affected communities from around the world in Geneva from 22-29 October 2016, during the second session of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights [4]. Together, we are calling for an international legally binding treaty to hold transnational corporations to account and end their impunity for human rights abuses and environmental crimes, and to give people access to justice [4].

“It is good to see African countries defending an international legal instrument to control transnational corporations in a UN space. For decades communities have fought against human rights violations related to big business operations,” said Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa. “For 12 years in South Africa, ArcelorMittal denied the basic rights of affected communities, living in an area polluted by the steel industry, to know and access environmental study records that would allow them to understand the impact on their right to ‘an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing’, which is a violation of South Africa’s Constitution.” [5]


Further information and contacts:

Spokespersons available all week in Geneva:

Godwin Ojo, executive director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria / Environmental Rights Action (and member of the executive committee of Friends of the Earth International): + 234 813 520 8465 or

Lucia Ortiz, Economic Justice International Program Coordinator, Friends of the Earth International: + 55 48 99150071 or

groundWork spokespersons available in South Africa:

Bobby Peek, Director, groundWork / Friends of the Earth South Africa: +27 33 342 5662 or

Megan Lewis, Media and Communications Manager, groundWork / Friends of the Earth South Africa: +27 33 342 5662 /

More information here and here

Images from previous IGWG sessions on TNCs here.


Friends of the Earth International is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 75 national member groups and some 2 million members and supporters around the world. We challenge the current model of economic and corporate globalisation, and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies.

Notes to the editor

1) More details here.

2) Human rights abuses by the biggest companies are rife: Communities losing their homes to palm oil plantations in Indonesia, nine men imprisoned for resisting a Spanish hydro project in Guatemala, a river in Colombia so heavily polluted by a coal mine that local residents can no longer fish there, gas flaring continuing to devastate communities in Nigeria, despite being illegal since 1984. Find out more in FoEI’s official submission to the IGWG second session:

3) News report here.

4) Information on Friends of the Earth International’s work on the Treaty available here.

5) Information on the ArcelorMittal case by groundWork available here.