What You Need to Know about Corporate Accountability

business and human rightsIf businesses and multinational corporations are considered people under the Citizen United ruling, then they ought to be considered people under a variety of other characteristics besides free speech. Businesses and multinational corporations should also be considered people when it comes to human rights, both in acknowledging them and in holding them accountable for human rights violations. If individuals are held to this standard, then they ought to be held by the same standard if they are going to be “people” under the law. Here’s what you need to know about corporate accountability and what governments need to do to ensure these organizations uphold human rights in their operations.

Of the World’s 100 Largest Economies, 42 are Global Corporations, Not Countries

As of 2010, a little less than half of the world’s largest economies are global corporations. That percentage increases to 58% when you look at the top 150 economies. Wal-Mart is the largest global corporation, with its 2010 revenues exceeding the GDPs of 171 countries (note that there are 195 internationally recognized independent states). The five largest energy companies in the world – ExxonMobil, BP, Sinopec, Royal Dutch Petroleum, and China National Petroleum Corporation – actually comprise 2.5% of the world’s global GDP. Those five companies combined have the same size GDP as Canada, which is the 10th largest country in the world.

Overall point: these multinational corporations are powerful, more powerful than much of the world’s independent nations.

Corporate Accountability is More than Getting Justice for Human Rights Abuses

The story of St. Louis and the Veolia water contract is a perfect example of holding corporations accountable for previous actions and preventing them from continuing their behavior. Safe drinking water is a basic human need as well as a basic human right, and shouldn’t be left to transnational companies to do what they want with it while profiting at the expense of the locals and the poor. St. Louisans made it clear that they didn’t like Veolia and that they weren’t going to accept handing over their water or what the company was doing in other parts of the country and the world.

One in four people in the world don’t have safe drinking water. Unchecked corporate power is one of the biggest human rights issues of our time, and although St. Louisans were successful in checking Veolia’s power, there’s still more to do be done with many other organizations and how they’re using their unchecked power to inflict harm.

Let’s Not Forget Their Influence in Politics

Everyone understands that Citizens United gave corporations immense power to influence public policy and to subvert the will of the people. Bank of America is bankrolling Big Coal, while Big Oil has a huge hand in trying to get the Keystone XL pipeline going. Monsanto spent millions in California to defeat a GMO labeling bill in the most recent election. There’s also the role the financial institutions played in preventing regulations of the financial industry, especially in the few years after the crisis. A big part of corporate accountability is holding these companies accountable to their stances and what they want as public policy as well as any human rights abuses and violations they may commit.

We need to challenge corporate election spending, as well as uncover what issues they are spending money on for lobbying and public policy. If corporations are going to spend millions upon millions of dollars to support or to defeat certain issues, then the public (and especially their customers) should know about these activities.

Related Links:

How to Track Relevant Human Rights Legislation

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Lobbying for Human Rights

How to Use Twitter to Promote Human Rights 

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President Obama’s Leadership with International Human Rights (Part 6 of 8)

preventing mass atrocitiesPart six of our eight part series focuses on preventing mass atrocities as well as multilateral efforts to prevent human rights efforts. These issues will be worth watching over the course of the next 12 months, maybe even 24 months, as many international issues progress. These issues and situations include the Thailand protests, the Ukraine protests, the situation in South Sudan, as well as increased violence and upheaval in Bangladesh and Cambodia. These situations may require UN intervention or US diplomacy, so President Obama’s leadership with foreign policy will be watched as he finishes his second term.

Preventing Mass Atrocities

President Obama announced in 2012 a comprehensive Administration strategy to prevent atrocities, underscoring that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” The U.S. government is working to implement that strategy and investing in prevention efforts within the U.S. government and around the world. As part of this strategy, President Obama established an Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and prioritize atrocity prevention efforts within the U.S. government. Through the Board, U.S. departments and agencies are identifying and helping address atrocity threats and developing new policies and tools to enhance the capacity of the United States to effectively prevent and respond to atrocities.

Improving our own capacities

Agencies are using early warning tools to ensure timely attention to potential drivers of atrocity risk and share our analysis with other governments; assisting U.S. embassies by providing surges of skills and expertise to help assess and respond to atrocity threats; and developing and implementing new training for personnel serving in countries at high risk.

Multilateral institutions and peacekeeping capabilities

The U.S. government is working closely with other governments to help build the capacity of the United Nations and other institutions to better protect civilians, mediate conflicts, and take other effective preventive measures.

Supporting country-specific prevention efforts

The U.S. government is undertaking and supporting preventive measures in countries around the world, including supporting the training and deployment of African Union peacekeepers to the Central African Republic; supporting efforts to prevent violence and protect vulnerable communities in Burma; supporting projects that lay the foundation for accountability for atrocities in Syria; and continuing to advise and assist regional partners as part of a comprehensive effort to mitigate and end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Strengthening Multilateral Human Rights Mechanisms

Leading at the UN Human Rights Council

Since joining the UN Human Rights Council in 2009 and following our re-election in 2012, U.S. leadership has helped muster international action to address human rights violations worldwide and make the HRC more credible and effective. The United States supported the establishment of international commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and help lay the groundwork for accountability, including in Syria, North Korea, and Qadhafi’s Libya. We led the creation of a UN special rapporteur on Iran to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation. U.S. co-sponsorship helped adopt the first-ever resolution in the UN system on the human rights of LGBT persons. We built a global coalition to advance freedom of assembly and association worldwide, including by facilitating the establishment of the first-ever Special Rapporteur for these issues and by underscoring the important role civil society plays in promoting and protecting human rights. And we worked across historical divides to win adoption of a landmark resolution calling on all states to take positive measures to combat intolerance, violence, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, while protecting the freedom of expression.

Related Links:

President Obama’s Leadership Part 1 – LGBT Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 2 – Women’s Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 4 – Civil Society, Open Government, Internet Freedom

President Obama’s Leadership Part 5 – Human Trafficking