Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and allies link human rights and trade policy

Published by Brent Patterson on

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The Beyond NAFTA 2.0: Toward a Progressive Trade Agenda for People and the Planet report (published in June 2019) by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung examines in part the relationship between trade policy and human rights.

The editors highlight, “If international trade respects ecological limits and its benefits are fairly shared, it can be a positive force, both economically and socially. But in the current era of hyper-globalization, trade agreements have shown little regard for the planet’s environmental boundaries, the needs of workers and the poor, and society as a whole.”

They note that trade and investment agreements must be judged against key principles including, “Human rights in the broadest sense, including economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, must have primacy over corporate and investor rights, and there needs to be legally binding obligations on transnational corporations.”

The paper also highlights, “Respect for Indigenous Peoples, human rights, and environmental protection rights should be obligatory in international law and take precedence over other legislation, with binding mechanisms to ensure corporate accountability.”

“This has been the motivation behind organizations engaged in negotiations for an International Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights, as well as national-level efforts to pursue legal mechanisms for corporate accountability.”

In the chapter on Indigenous Rights, Paulina Acevedo Menanteau writes that a progressive trade regime should include, “Reports on the human rights impact of all investment agreements, both in negotiation and those ratified and in force, with special consideration for the impacts on Indigenous Peoples.”

And in the chapter on Environmental Protection and Climate Change, Manuel Pérez-Rocha writes, “[The USMCA] rolls back the environmental standards of past trade deals, encourages fracking, and offers dangerous hand-outs to oil companies and other polluters.” For further commentary on this, please see this PBI-Canada article: The Supreme Court of the Netherlands rules human rights are jeopardized by climate breakdown.

Overall, the paper concludes with 10 principles for a progressive trade agenda notably including, “Fully recognize and respect gender and indigenous rights, including prioritizing women’s employment and economic well-being, and recognizing indigenous title to land and resources and the right to free, prior, and informed consent.”

Peace Brigades International has stated that the human rights, environmental rights and land defenders it accompanies often find themselves threatened, criminalized and at risk because of “powerful economic and political interests.”

PBI has commented, “In a system that favours profit over rights, economic models that encourage the forced displacement of those defending their resource-rich territories will continue and those at the forefront will remain at risk of violence.”

Given these realities, PBI continues to accompany and support human rights defenders “who defend their land and territory against the imposition of economic projects that will damage nature and contribute to climate change.”

For more, please see the following PBI-Canada articles: UN Special Rapporteur links “current development model” with risks faced by human rights defenders and PBI engaged in UN processes on human rights and transnational corporations and Human rights concerns and the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

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