For Human Rights Beyond Borders

Human Rights have been locked up behind domestic bars to prevent their universal application to globalization and its much needed regulation. Extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) unlock human rights.

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EIs, Landgrab, TNCs

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Among the themes and main policy fields that were identified by the members of the ETO Consortium, transnational corporations, land grabbing and extractive industries have been considered to be of crucial interest to the work on ETOs. This interest applies to work on the three themes taken separately but also to work on the commonalities and overlaps between the three areas. For all of those, ETOs and the Maastricht Principles have a great potential of raising awareness and supporting advocacy about the nature and scope of the responsibilities of the different actors involved as well as about the needs and opportunities for international responses to problems that have long reached out the traditional domestic dimensions.


Extractives industries include the exploration and exploitation/extraction of natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, metals, timber and stones. The dominant global economic growth model requires tremendous amounts of natural resources and in particular energy and minerals. Accordingly, the exploitation of natural resources and in particular extractive industries with huge long term investments and impact on the environment is on short term more profitable in countries where the accountability to human rights is low, the legal and institutional frameworks are too weak and much more favorable to (private) investors than victims/local communities who are rarely consulted and heard. Obviously, mineral wealth does not automatically equate with national wealth, and even less with sustainable development and greater enjoyment of human rights. On the contrary, extractive industries mostly operate in rural areas and often in natural reserves, forests areas, indigenous and traditional communities’ lands.


The highly unequal distribution of land ownership in many countries remains an issue of concern, from Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa via South East Asia. The lack of adequate and secure access to land and natural resources for the rural and urban poor is one of the key causes of hunger and poverty in the world. The trend towards the re-concentration of land ownership and the reversal of redistributive agrarian reform processes can be observed even in countries with traditionally more egalitarian patterns of access to land, such as China. A global process is underway whereby powerful foreign private and public investors conclude agreements with States to take possession of or control large surfaces of land, which is relevant for current and future food sovereignty in the host countries. The FAO estimates that in the last three years twenty million hectares have been acquired by foreign interests in Africa alone. 


Transnational corporations play a major role not only in the extractive sector and in the renewed interest for land and agricultural investments. They have become key players in many various areas that are of vital strategic importance to the realization of human rights and in particular of economic, social and cultural rights. Among these areas, one can mention security, communication and media, social services and infrastructure. The increasing power of actors like TNCs pose huge challenges to human rights advocates due to, among others, the complex legal structures of corporations, the lack of effective legal and judicial remedies in cases of abuses and the extent to which States should exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction whenever they are in a position to influence, control and regulate TNCs that have affected human rights of people wherever they may live.