States must stop prioritizing investment over human rights – UN experts

OHCHR

UN experts today called on States to ensure that international investment agreements do not provide a “safe harbour” for investors to abuse the human rights of individuals and communities.

“Too often, investors receive privileged treatment under international investment agreements, while people impacted by the projects suffer,” said Surya Deva, Chair of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. “States must make sure that human rights are at the heart of future investment agreements, and that existing agreements are reformed to promote responsible business conduct.”

He made the call for urgent fundamental and transformative reform of the international investment regime in presenting the Working Group’s report to the UN General Assembly. The report looks particularly at Principle 9 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsthat reminds States, when negotiating trade and investment agreements, to retain adequate policy space and regulatory ability to protect human rights.

“Most existing international investment agreements reflect three ‘I’s:  imbalance, inconsistency and irresponsibility,” Deva said. “Imbalance because investors’ rights grossly outweigh their obligations. Inconsistency in the way investors, in comparison to affected communities, are able to settle disputes. All of which contributes to irresponsibility on the part of investors.”

The on-going multilateral process of Working Group III of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which will hold its next session during 15-19 November 2021, offers a prime opportunity to make systemic changes to the current international investment regime.

“Cosmetic changes will not address structural problems of international investment law,” Deva said. “States must harness international investment agreements to preserve space to exercise their duty to regulate, impose human rights obligations on investors, and replace the investor-State dispute settlement with a mechanism which is fairer to all parties.”

Changes must be made in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global framework that sets out the obligations of States and the responsibilities of business to prevent and address business-related human rights abuse. 

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