As the delegates negotiating a new instrument on business and human rights gather in Geneva for a ninth round of discussions, we are witnessing a strange turnaround. When this ambitious negotiation started in 2014, at the initiative of Ecuador, many Western countries perceived it with suspicion: wasn’t this, they asked, a plot directed against the major corporations that dominate the global economy, many of which are based in the Global North – an attempt, perhaps, to awaken the ghosts of the New International Economic Order? Now, the opposite question is asked: isn’t the treaty an attempt to impose on developing countries’ norms which originate in the affluent West? Might this yet be another attempt for OECD countries to reaffirm their control of globalisation, and to deny Global South countries their economic sovereignty?
The reality is the draft instrument is neither a conspiracy from the North to maintain its dominance, nor an attempt from the South to challenge it. Both groups of countries have good reasons to support the treaty process, although these reasons are different for each. Rich countries have an interest in seeking to counter the blackmailing of corporations which routinely threaten to outsource production to locations where human rights are regularly flouted with impunity. Developing nations have an interest in ensuring transnational corporations will not coerce them into granting investors exorbitant privileges, which largely annul any benefit host countries might have expected from the arrival of investors.