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International Investment Agreements (IIAs) and Human Rights


Trade and investment agreements (IIAs) concluded by states – in a bilateral, regional or international setting – can adversely affect the business respect for human rights in diverse ways. In addition to constraining the legal or policy space available to states to regulate the conduct of investors, IIAs can also impact affected communities’ right to seek effective remedies against investors for project-related human rights abuses.

Principle 9 of the UN Guiding Principles on the Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), therefore, reminds States to “maintain adequate domestic policy space to meet their human rights obligations when pursuing business-related policy objectives with other States or business enterprises, for instance through investment treaties or contracts.”  

How could states maintain such domestic policy space? Building on the work of UNCTAD and others in this area, the Working Group aims to unpack implications of Principle 9 for all three pillars of the UNGPs and provide concrete guidance to states in managing better the adverse impact of IIAs on human rights.

Recommendations for states   

In its October 2017 report to the UN General Assembly (A/72/162), the Working Group highlighted that “effective remedies for business-related human rights abuses could be sought in diverse settings … and that the negative impact of … dispute settlement under trade or investment agreements” on access to effective remedies under the UNGPs should be managed. The report further recommended: “States should conduct an inclusive and transparent human rights impact assessment before concluding trade-investment agreements and insert explicit substantive human rights provisions in those agreements to preserve adequate policy space to discharge their human rights obligations.”

A three-prong approach has been suggested to states in the following blogpost to ensure that IIAs do not result in asymmetrical empowerment of investors or inequitable and unsustainable economic development: Managing States’ “Fatal Attraction” to International Investment Agreements


On 18 October 2017, the Working Group and the Columbia Centre on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) co-hosted a roundtable in New York on “Impacts of the Investment Regime on Access to Justice”. An outcome paper of the roundtable is now available.   

Sessions at the UN Forum   

The Working Group, in collaboration with other partners, is organising sessions at the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights to stimulate discussion about challenges and emerging good practices to manage those challenges in the context of IIAs and human rights: