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ATELIER 18 (en anglais) 

Building Democratic Solidarity Between Non-governmental Organizations and Communities Around Corporate Responsibility for Human Rights

Tracy London
Étudiante 3e cycle , School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, Colombie-Britannique, Canada

International policy processes on corporate responsibility for human rights, such as the United Nations Global Compact and the consultations of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General on Business and Human Rights, are based on the procedural right of all interested parties to participate. However, corporations and governmental authorities have significantly more power and resources than non-governmental governmental organizations, communities at risk and vulnerable individuals to participate in these processes.

As a consequence, there is a risk that the development of international norms around corporate responsibility for human rights will be an unfair process, and that the representation of interests within the substantive content of the norms will be unequal, favouring corporate private interests over public interests. Governmental recognition of weak and empty norms that are the outcome of these international policy processes will undermine basic democratic rights and freedoms that are intended to protect individual and communities from the harms of unlawful corporate activities.

To address the matter of corporations’ undue influence on international policy processes setting out corporations’ legal responsibilities for human rights protection, non-governmental organizations are engaged in social action to build solidarity movements internationally. The purpose of the solidarity movements is to ensure that the voices of individuals and communities vulnerable to harmful corporate acts are given fair and equal access to be recognized and participate in the normative deliberations. The secondary purpose of the solidarity movements is to ensure that the substantive content of corporate responsibility norms are recognized to be adequately robust to hold corporations accountable for negative obligations such as prohibitions on violating human rights, and for positive obligations such as the promotion of human rights.

Paradoxically, the relationship between non-governmental organizations and communities are not immune to the inequities often manifested by corporate and governmental actions in these processes. The paper will examine two contradictions that often confront non-governmental organizations engaged in building solidarity to participate in these international policy processes. First, there are power and resource differentials between multinational non-governmental organizations and community leaders where the non-governmental organization appropriates grassroots voices and actions for its own agenda. Second, negotiations between corporations, governmental authorities and non-governmental authorities can lack transparency such that the interests of affected communities and grassroots leaders are not equally and fairly represented. The paper will examine opportunities of democratic renewal in non-governmental organizations’ solidarity actions with communities.



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