Transnational corporations should be held to human rights standards - UN expert

Jean Ziegler

13 October 2003 – The United Nations expert on the right to food today recommended that UN Member States better monitor transnational companies to protect food supplies for the poor and suggested that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could play a role in this effort.

In a report to the General Assembly released today, Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to food, also praises the Governments of Sierra Leone and Brazil for their food initiatives.

Mr. Ziegler says "the growing power of transnational corporations and their extension of power through privatization, deregulation and the rolling back of the State also mean that it is now time to develop binding legal norms that hold corporations to human rights standards and circumscribe potential abuses of their position of power."

Noting that transnational corporations are often many times bigger than some of the countries in which they operate, and that they "are still rarely under scrutiny for their respect of human rights," Mr. Ziegler concludes, "it is therefore vital to strengthen monitoring mechanisms."

"Governments should regulate transnational corporations and their activities in the food system with a view to implementing their obligation to protect their citizens and those in other countries," he writes.

"Non-governmental organizations should have a crucial role to play in order to help states, human rights mechanisms and the transnational corporations themselves to ensure the fulfilment of all human rights, including the right food," he says.

The report also says, "While advances have been made in women's formal rights, this has not been accompanied by adequate attention to making these rights meaningful and substantive so the real impact of international instruments on women's lives remains limited. Women continue to suffer de facto discrimination in access to and control over food, land, and incomes and other resources."

He recommends governments "reduce the gap between advocated norms and reality."

The report compliments Brazil's new government for its 41-point "Zero Hunger" programme and the Government of Sierra Leone for the new emphasis it is putting on the right to food.

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