null An international convention is required for enforcing the human rights responsibilities of large conglomerates - conference in the Ombudsman’s Office

Budapest, April 11, 2017 – In order to combat human rights violations committed by supranational conglomerates, an international convention should be worked out that would ensure the accountability of such conglomerates, pointed out the conference jointly organized by the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and the National Society of Conservationists. According to the organizers, the Hungarian Government should support the forthcoming UN Convention both at the international and EU levels.

In recent years, upon the initiative of civil society organizations, including the international Friends of the Earth network, preparations have been under way within the framework of the UN for drafting an international convention on the issue of supranational conglomerates and human rights. The planned convention is aimed at imposing binding rules on supranational conglomerates, forcing them to respect human rights.

In his opening remarks Deputy Commissioner, Ombudsman for future generations Gyula Bándi pointed out that, simultaneously with economic globalization, and as a consequence thereof, environmental issues are getting globalized as well, since they are being “exported” on a global scale. Therefore, we must not focus exclusively on creating appropriate environmental conditions at home as it may have adverse effect on the environmental conditions of other countries or even the world as a whole. An exclusively domestically focused environmental policy is spurious and misleading in the age of globalization. Such a short-sighted, often selfish approach gives false relief from global responsibility and runs contrary to the–nowadays already fundamental–requirement to take into account the global environmental burden of solutions declared environmentally friendly. A globalized economy without ethical considerations, and allegedly environmentally friendly local solutions implemented without seeing the whole picture become deceptive and jeopardize not only the present, but our common future as well. That is why it is organically linked to the requirement of providing specific content to human, fundamental rights cited at a theoretical level in the texts of various declarations. These factors, i.e., the joint enforcement of local and global environmental responsibility together with the practical implementation of fundamental rights may give us a way to neutralize threats that are already visible and, in many places, directly palpable – emphasized Gyula Bándi, Ombudsman for future generations.

Staffers of the National Society of Conservationists pointed out that large corporations violate labor and environmental legal norms in many countries. The number of cases when armed groups financed by multinational corporations threaten the lives of local civil activists is increasing. In 2015 only, 185 persons lost their lives because they had acted against such corporations, in the interest of protecting nature.
Another striking example of the destruction caused by multinational corporations is the issue of palm oil. Palm oil is predominantly produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the natives have been run off their traditionally cultivated lands in order to create oil palm plantations. The natives are forced to work as hired laborers on the plantations. Based on the regulations in effects, it is impossible to hold these corporations accountable for their wrongdoings, added Róbert Fridrich, project manager of the National Society of Conservationists.

The economic, social and cultural rights of local communities deprived of their land and natural resources may get regularly violated because, in many cases, it is done with the support or active participation of foreign investors and conglomerates, and because they are not compelled by international law to respect human rights.

Human rights and environmentalists cannot be efficiently protected if the perpetrators may escape their liability. That is why an international tribunal and a mechanism appropriately sanctioning supranational corporations should be established. It is the only way to prevent large conglomerates from evading being held responsible through hiding behind investment protection treaties and the legal entity status of their subsidiaries, and from carrying on with their activities with impunity – stressed István Tamás Farkas, executive chairman of the National Society of Conservationists.

According to the conservationists, the system of voluntary undertakings is not sufficient, since it does not ensure the accountability of supranational corporations. However, we may witness some promising initiatives in Europe. In February, France adopted an act which holds the large conglomerates responsible for the acts of their subsidiaries and suppliers, and in the Netherlands a law was adopted by the parliament on avoiding the use of child labor.

The conservationists pointed out that the Hungarian Government had voiced its commitment to fight against the harmful acts of multinational corporations on several occasions. Hungary has now a chance to contribute to regulating the supranational corporations’ activities; therefore, we call on the Government to support in the United Nations Human Rights Council the adoption of the planned convention.