Business and human rights: Latin American contributions to debates on an international treaty

The United Nations intergovernmental working group in charge of designing the treaty met in Geneva.

The debate about corporate responsibility in human rights violations is moving forward. This week the United Nations intergovernmental working group in charge of designing an international treaty on this matter met in Geneva. CELS continues contributing to this discussion based on progress made in Argentina, where the responsibility of businesspeople and senior corporate officials in the abduction, torture and murder of workers during the last dictatorship is being investigated.

Today we outlined the evolution of the Argentine process of memory, truth and justice in an oral statement made during the second session of the working group. We shared information on cases litigated by CELS, including that of Molinos Río de la Plata – an Argentine company investigated over the disappearance of 26 people, many of them trade unionists – and Mercedes-Benz, whose executives are being probed over the role they played in the enforced disappearance of 16 workers. We also highlighted that this year, in the case of La Veloz del Norte, for the first time a business owner was convicted for the crimes against humanity committed against a worker at his company. In other cases, there is still evidence of resistance by the judicial branch to investigating powerful economic sectors.

An in-depth study about the repression of workers during State terrorism analyzed the responsibility of shareholders and senior corporate officials from 25 companies in the human rights violations affecting nearly 900 people. This research proved that there were clandestine detention centers set up on factory premises and instances of executives being present during the abduction and/or torture of workers, among other practices. This joint report between CELS, FLACSO-Argentina and the national Ministry of Justice and Human Rights was submitted to the Argentine Attorney General’s Office.

In addition to citing the report during our oral statement, we underscored the importance of the creation of a bicameral congressional commission to identify economic complicities during the last dictatorship. It is worth adding that the commission is still not functioning yet, despite recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee to the Argentine state.

In addition, on Wednesday we co-organized a side event entitled “Corporate responsibility in human rights violations: experiences and lessons in the quest for memory, truth and justice,” along with andhes, Dejusticia and the University of Oxford. Presenters there spoke about different aspects of the Argentine experience and about the process of justice and peace in Colombia. They stressed the need to establish a State obligation to implement effective mechanisms for access to justice by victims, reparation and the right to truth.