Can Trade Policy Improve Human Rights?
Joyce van Genderen- Naar
On 13 October 2010 the Conference 'Can Trade Policy Improve Human Rights' was organized by the Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament in Brussels.
Presentations were made by representatives from the WTO, ILO, George Washington University, Avocats sans Frontiéres France.
EU Commissioner De Gucht also adressed the audience, explaining his pro free trade policy.
In his conclusions the President of the S&G Group, Mr. Martin Schultz, said that he is not supporting the opinion of Members in the European Parliament who say 'First Trade and than Human Rights'. He also does not support views that say 'no human rights no trade'. There has to be a balance.
Another concern is that the European Parliament does not have the tools (capacity) yet for its new co-decision competency and responsability with regard to the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) Negotiations, provided for in the Lisbon Treaty. That is why they are organizing these conferences and hearings, to listen to the opinions of the experts and to learn.
So it is a kind of capacity building of the European Parliament and its members. But will it be efficient to deal with these complex global trade issues?
Now the focus is on human rights and social and environmental rights and standards of the FTAs, but there also other issues to address.
Recommendations were made to establish a binding complaint management system for human rights violations in FTAs. Dispute settlement should be applied to all chapters, also to the sustainable chapter, which is not the case in the FTA Korea (and in the CF-EC-EPA and probably otherll FTAs).
The conclusion is that Trade Policy can improve the economic development of a country, but economic growth does not mean that human rights, labour rights and social and environmental rights are improved. In some countries they are (for example Mauritius), but in many countries in the South social-, environmental and labour conditions are worsened because of FTAs (longer working hours, no job security, no healthy circumstances, no more access to cheap medicines etc.).
That has also been said by Asian and European representatives during the
the 8th ASIA-Europe's People's Forum, organised from 2 - 5 October 2010 in Brussels, parallel to the 8th Asia-Europe ASEM Summit in Brussels.
"Challenging and Eroding Corporate Powers" was the theme of this Forum.
Recommendations has been sent by the Forum to the ASEM8 Summit (the Asian and European Heads of States). See the website http://www.aepf.info/
The recommendations started with the message from Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament of Malaysia, that "Poverty is creatyed by unequal systems- it can be eradicated. Governments need to reassert their control over corporations and be accountable to their citizens. Ultimately it is a question of political choice and priorities".
The Forum debated the way companies and businesses have used their expanded legal rights and exceptional access to decision-makers to aggressively push for policies that open new markets and allows access to raw materials regardless of the social or environmental costs. The Forum concluded that the lack of accountability in transnational corporations operations and weak regulation has resulted in the devastation of the environment and erosion of civil, political and labour rights. Voluntary codes of conduct are not enough, they have not prevented human rights and environmental abuses. More has to be done to make corporations accountable to governments. The Forum called upon Asian and EU governments :
* to work towards the development of an international legally binding code which enforces legal responsibilities and accountability for the consequences of company activities. Increase transparency of corporate accounts by adopting a country-by-country reporting standard for multinational companies. Ensure that corporations annualy disclose their finances, environmental, workers safety, human and labour rights, lobbying and tax records.
* Promote the creation of an International Economic Tribunal than can judge transnational companies, be responsible for the defending the fundamental rights of people affected by companies activities and impose appropriate sanctions.
* End corporate lobbying privileges and secrecy by introducing a high-quality, mandatory lobbying transparency register, to end the excessive political influence of corporate lobby groups. Implement effective conflicts of interest rules for Commissioners, Commission officials and Commission Special Advisors and institute enforceable ethiocs rules for corporate and business lobyists.
* Put an hold all EU member states' Bilateral Investment Treaties negotiations, while the new EU investment policy framework is being defined.
* Undertake a full assessment of EU investment policy and ensure policy coherence with excisting policies on sustainable develoment, poverty reduction and women's rights.
* Replace the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, embedded in international treaties, with a state-to-state mechanism.
* Close down tax havens under the jurisdiction of any EU member state and Asian countries.
Joyce van Genderen-NAAR, Lawyer
Advisor MDG Global Watch :
Advisor ACP Civil Society Forum: