International Investment Agreements (IIAs) and Human Rights

Report on human rights-compatible international investment agreements

27 July 2021
Working Group on business and human rights
To the UN General Assembly at its 76th session
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In the present report, the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises discusses the implications of principle 9 of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for States in negotiating new international investment agreements or reforming old agreements. Most existing international investment agreements reflect an imbalance between rights and obligations of investors, which can have the unintended effect of facilitating irresponsible investor conduct or making it challenging for States to regulate such conduct. The Working Group therefore recommends that States ensure that all existing and future investment agreements are compatible with their international human rights obligations. States should also invoke international investment agreements to encourage responsible business conduct on the part of investors and hold them accountable for abusing internationally recognized human rights.


This report builds, among others, on prior work undertaken by the Working Group examining various dimensions of the interface between IIAs and human rights.

1. Connecting the dots

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."

2. Roundtable

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.

3. Blog

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

4. Letter to states

In March 2019, the Working Group joined other UN experts to write a letter to states to raise concerns about the ongoing work of the Working Group III on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Reform.

5. Sessions at the UN Forum

The Working Group, in collaboration with other partners, has organized several 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:

2015 Forum: State implementation of the UN Guiding Principles in the context of investment policy: areas for focus and examples of implementation


The Working Group convened several virtual consultations in different parts of the world to inform the report. A summary of these consultations will be posted here in due course.

  • A consultation for Europe, 10 December 2020, co-organized by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), and the University of Essex Business and Human Rights Project
  • A consultation for the Americas, 23-24 February 2021, co-organized by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), Universidad Andrés Bello, and Instituto de Derechos Humanos y Empresas - Universidad de Monterrey
  • A consultation only for private sector organized by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), 9 April 2021
  • A consultation for the Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 21 April 2021 It is being convened by the UN Working Group and co-organized the Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business (Poland) and Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University (Ukraine). Concept note for the meeting available in English and Русский. Summary of the discussions from the consultation (English)
  • A consultation convened by the Working Group on Business and Human Rights and organized by the South Centre, only for its member States, 29 April 2021.
  • A consultation for Africa, 18 May and 26 May 2021, co-organized by the University of Pretoria's Centre for Human Rights, the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Summary of the discussions from the consultation (English
  • A consultation for Asia and Oceania, 14 June 2021. It is being convened by the Working Group and co-organized by Australian Human Rights Institute (Australia), Hamad bin Khalifa University College of Law (Qatar), University of Colombo (Sri Lanka) and ESCAP.

The Working Group invited States and all other stakeholders to submit relevant information to help inform the report.

See questionnaire (English | Français | Español) and open call for input (English | Français | Español).

Inputs received


Other stakeholders

Working Group on business and human rights
Recent thematic reports
Issues in focus
Contact information

Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Palais des Nations, 8-14, Avenue de la Paix. 1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9159

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