Good news: The United Nations has recently approved the implementation of a legally binding body that can punish corporations that commit human rights abuses.
Bad news: The United States is furious and says it will refuse to abide by any repercussions this Human Rights Council-approved body should assign.
Up until now, the UN’s standards for corporate accountability have been strictly voluntarily. Resolving that waving a metaphorical finger at companies that commit human rights abuses was insufficient, in 2013, Ecuador initiated a proposal to hold international offenders responsible for their immoral actions. More than 80 other countries signed on, agreeing that actual accountability was necessary to diminish human rights abuse. With help from South Africa, Ecuador finally convinced the HRC to vote on the issue last week; the resolution passed by a 20-14 vote.
Alas, it’s the nations who voted no that are being the most vocal at this point, with the United States and nations in the European Union leading the charge. Before the vote, they lobbied hard to have nations reject Ecuador’s proposal; since losing, they have thrown what amounts to a hissy fit. “The United States will not participate in this IGWG [intergovernmental working group] and we encourage others to do the same,” said Stephen Townley, America’s HRC rep.
Why are the United States and Europe so opposed to holding corporations responsible for the human rights abuses they perpetuate? Presumably, it’s because they are the nations that most benefit from systematic injustice throughout the world. Arguably, a lot of the human rights exploitations occur in other countries, but the U.S. and E.U. are the main nations that profit from these businesses. Additionally, most of the goods produced in these substandard conditions are then sold in the U.S. and Europe.
As such, a U.S. representative declared, “This legally binding instrument will not be binding for those who vote against it.” That’s a bold proclamation given that the whole point of the decision was to ensure that all international corporations would be held responsible for their actions, not just the ones who agree to the terms. It’ll be interesting to see in the months ahead how the United States intends to wriggle out of its responsibility to abide by these rules since, technically, it shouldn’t have grounds to do that.
Then again, the United States has managed to maintain a love/hate relationship with the United Nations for years now, willfully ignoring certain decrees, so perhaps it will be able to use its clout to get what it wants after all. It’s just a shame that the kind of thing the United States is willing to put its reputation on the line for is something like refusing to hold human rights abusers criminally accountable. Go figure that the same country that refuses to jail a single fraudulent banking executive preemptively has the backs of its corporate cronies for even more despicable acts.
Overall, this is not an attractive look for the United States. It’s pitiful, unjustifiable stances like this one that may cause history to categorize this powerful country as one of the “bad guys.”