Last week, the U.S. State Department announced that the government would develop a National Action Plan to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct,” in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Once complete, the U.S. will join the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Spain as the only states to have released National Action Plans on business and human rights (BHR NAPs). According to the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Switzerland and Finland are also in the process of developing their own plans.
The announcement comes in advance of official United Nations guidance on the subject, promised by the U.N. Working Group for December 2014, which ought to inform the U.S. process. While this news may barely register on the radar of even those most interested in corporate social responsibility, organizations like Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) have been publicly pushing President Barack Obama to develop a BHR NAP for some time. (ICAR is also working with the Danish Institute for Human Rights on a larger NAP project that aims to provide guidance for governments in the development, implementation, and review of BHR NAPs.)
In a sense, the creation of a NAP is akin to the crucial step of domestic implementation of a treaty or other international instrument (and the future of the rights or obligations it purports to protect/enforce), including international human rights treaties, like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), or those creating international institutions, like the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
By ratifying the ICCPR, for instance, the U.S. committed to “prevent and protect against discrimination and ensure equal treatment for all ... without any limitations or exceptions.” Yet, domestic implementation of the ICCPR has been lacking. Who, for instance, can argue that the federal government has come close to accomplishing this (admittedly lofty) aim? With respect to the ICC, the process of domesticating the Rome Statute was arguably more important than the creation of the Court itself to ending impunity for the most serious violations of human rights, due to the central role the theory of complementarity plays in the ICC framework. However, while Rome Statute domestication has made significant strides, the future of international criminal accountability is far from certain, in large part because of the failure of the rule of law in states most prone to conflict and rights abuse.
Thus, even though the UNGPs are not a binding instrument, state-based guidance regarding how states intend to protect human rights in the business context is crucial to the future of corporate accountability.
The first state to adopt a BHR NAP was the U.K., which announced its plan in September 2013. The U.K. has been at the forefront of the BHR movement, and the architect of the UNGPs, John Ruggie, himself praised the U.K.’s plan as an “important step” toward “socially sustainable globalization.”
Most importantly, the U.K. NAP:
Here is a summary of the top 10 from ICAR and DIHR. Hopefully these are the types of things the U.S. will aim to include in its own BHR NAP process:
Trained as a lawyer, I now focus on legal business development, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and business & human rights. My past experience includes work on complex commercial litigation, international human rights advocacy, education policy, pro bono legal representation, and analysis of CSR challenges in both the private and public sectors.
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