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Corporations accountable for chemical poisoning

Corporations must be held accountable for chemical poisoning: UN rights expert

With 47,000 people estimated to die each year from toxic chemicals and many millions more made ill, a United Nations expert today urged States to hold trans-national corporations accountable for the human rights caused violations caused by poisons in household goods and food.

“There is a proliferation of products and foods containing toxic chemicals,” Okechukwu Ibeanu, the Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and waste, said in a statement issued on the occasion of World Health Day, 7 April.

“In a globalized world, such products are traded internationally or produced locally by subsidiaries of trans-national companies, thereby affecting the enjoyment of human rights of individuals and communities in all parts of the world,” he added.

According to Mr. Ibeanu, low-level exposure to toxic chemicals occurs from different sources, from everyday household and food products, to employment in the agricultural or the mining sector, to the disposal of electronic products and vessels and accidents.

Each of these situations raises a variety of human rights concerns, and may require different strategies for prevention and redress to victims, he said, but many of the individual cases brought to his attention deal with allegations of irresponsible or illegal corporate behaviour.

“Such behaviour is too often met with impunity,” he said. “International human rights law compels States to take effective steps to regulate corporate behaviour in relation to hazardous chemicals and holds private companies accountable for any actions taken in breach of such regulations.”

The expert urged States “to take measures to assure that the victims of human rights violations arising from actions or omissions by trans-national corporations should be allowed to seek redress in the home country jurisdiction, and to ensure that trans-national corporations domiciled in their countries be held to account for violating human rights standards.”

As a special rapporteur, Mr. Ibeanu is an independent, unpaid expert with a mandate from the UN Commission on Human Rights, which adopted a resolution on the adverse effects of toxic products and waste on the enjoyment of human rights in 1995.

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