Regulations originally intended to protect human rights or the environment can be effectively derailed or softened by means of corporate lobbying at local, national and international levels.

“The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who generally have an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” Adam Smith (1776)

Some companies lobby against regulation that protects human rights in their own capacity, but they also engage in campaigns through lobby groups, business associations or purpose-built think tanks.[1] Such lobbying is conducted through various official and unofficial channels, from lobby letters and meetings to more subtle techniques of influencing policy-makers with favours such as dinners and social events.

At the national level, corporate lobbying occurs in response to industry-specific regulations, consumer protections laws or corporate law itself.[2] At the international level, lobbying efforts focused against treaties concerning human rights or environmental protection obligations seek to minimise future liability for the impacts of business operations.[3]

Governance gaps remain

Lobbying itself is not illicit. However, when the aim of that lobbying is to undermine a regulation that would protect human rights, the company’s strategy can have harmful human rights impacts for rights holders. Furthermore, lobbying campaigns may aim to maintain the status quo of non-binding obligations and thereby frustrate the closing of governance gaps.

[1] Corporate Europe Observatory, “Captured states: when EU governments are a channel for corporate interests”, February 2019, (accessed June 29, 2020).

[2] van Teeffelen, Jasper and Roeline Knottnerus. “Een Giftige Lobby?” Lobbywatch Nederland. Accessed July 4, 2020. (accessed July 4, 2020); Corporate Europe Observatory. “Big Oil and Gas Buying Influence in Brussels: With Money and Meetings, Subsidies and Sponsorships, the Oil and Gas Lobby Is Fuelling the Climate Disaster,” October 24, 2019. (accessed June 29, 2020)

[3] For example, see the written and oral submissions of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in the context of the negotiations for a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights here: