Ecuador: Ensure central role for civil society in treaty process


Civil society's voice must be made central in work towards a binding treaty on business and human rights, says ISHR as NGO speaking times were under threat at the IGWG

(Geneva) - Civil society must play a central role in the process to develop a binding treaty on business and human rights, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has told the Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) in charge of the issue. The call came as, on the second day of the IGWG’s first working week, civil society interventions were temporarily suspended.

‘Effective participation by civil society in the treaty process is not optional, but it is a right for NGOs that the chair of the IGWG is obliged to uphold’, said ISHR’s Ben Leather of ISHR delivering a statement to the IGWG 

ISHR also called on the Chair of the Working Group to circulate future programmes of work ahead of time, to allow global civil society to prepare its participation, but commended inclusive initiatives such as the webcasting of the session and the openness to consider submissions from non-ECOSOC NGOs. Mr Leather also called for the Chair to work with OHCHR to prepare a clear process to prevent and react to reprisals against human rights defenders seeking to interact with the IGWG.

The agenda of the IGWG was well behind schedule by the end of Monday’s opening day, given negotiations regarding the adoption this session’s Plan of Work, the addition of an extra panel on the UN Guiding Principles, and the lack of time limits on interventions. NGOs were finally able to intervene at the end of the second morning.

However the Ambassador of Ecuador, who is chairing the process, announced that NGO interventions should be brief and would be cut short – with the remaining NGOs on the speakers list postponed to another session – in order to help recover the agenda. ISHR, together with NGOs and States spoke with the Chair to reiterate the importance that other solutions be sought for the recovery of the agenda, without impinging upon civil society space. Ultimately, the Chair agreed to accommodate the remaining civil society interventions at that afternoon’s session.

‘Whilst it is to be commended that ultimately the Chair ensured that civil society could be heard, Ecuador must make efforts to ensure that in the future, that space is never under threat. Rather, steps should be taken to guarantee that civil society are at the heart of the process’, said Mr Leather.

The format of this session of the IGWG is a series of panels, within which States can react first, followed by NGOs. Each panel is structured around a topic related to the treaty process. 

‘It is imperative that civil society representatives can dialogue with the panel which they have prepared a statement for; something which has not always happened this week’, said ISHR’s Corporate Accountability Programme Manager Michael Ineichen. ‘NGO interventions should form a core part of the debate and therefore be interspersed with those of States and other actors, rather than occurring towards the end of the panels. The Chair should ensure this at future sessions’, Mr Ineichen said.

ISHR’s statement on the core principles for a treaty focused on the importance that any outcome strengthen the capacity of civil society to claim rights in the context of business related abuses, as well as tackling those abuses per se. A successful treaty would reaffirm the State obligation to protect and support human rights defenders, and to investigate aggressions against them. It would also reaffirm the obligations of companies to engage with defenders and take proactive action to protect defenders where a failure to act would lead to avoidable harm, the statement said.

On day three of the session, yesterday, panels were held on 'Obligations of States to guarantee the Respect of Human Rights by TNCs and other business enterprises, including extraterritorial obligations' and on 'Enhancing the responsibility of TNCs and other business enterprises to respect human rights, including prevention, mitigation and remediation'. Civil society participation in both was strong, and ISHR made a statement in the former, urging that the treaty enshrine the obligation of States to ensure that business, both at home and abroad, do not threaten a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, but rather contribute to and protect it.

The first session of the IGWG runs until 10 July and can be followed via the online webcast. More information about business and human rights at the UN can be found in ISHR’s Business and Human Rights Monitor.

For more information contact Ben Leather at or +41 78 779 48 59


  • Corporate accountability
  • Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations, business and human rights
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Ecuador