Access calls for more NAPs on business and human rights

Today, Access and other civil society groups in the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), published a joint letter outlining the seven concrete steps each country must take to ensure that they effectively implement the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). In this letter, civil society groups worldwide sent a clear message to national governments on how to strengthen their approach to protect against human rights violations related to business activities.

The steps laid out in the letter revolve around the National Action Plans, or NAPs, that many countries began issuing to describe their challenges, tools, and goals to uphold the Guiding Principles worldwide.

UNGPs and State’s ‘Duty to Protect’

John Ruggie, in his position as U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, led stakeholder consultations to create the UNGPs, which the U.N. Human Rights Council later adopted in 2011. Thanks to the work of governments, civil society activists, and corporate stakeholders, the global discourse on business-related human rights abuses now has a common language.

To date, though, attention has focused on corporate responsibility to respect human rights, the second of the three pillars of the ‘Ruggie Framework.’ Less attention has been devoted to understanding and unpacking the first and third pillars – the State “duty to protect,” and the joint State-business responsibility to provide access to remedy.

Addressing the corporate responsibilities under the third pillar, on the right to remedy, Access issued the Telco Remedy Plan last year. Recognizing that abuses sometimes occur despite the best laid plans to prevent them, this paper was designed to help telecoms operators and vendors, and ISPs generally, to provide those affected with access to remedy. Since judicial courts are the primary entity charged with providing access to remedy, ICAR recently addressed the barriers to judicial remedy in its paper The Third Pillar.

As evidenced by today’s letter, a growing body of voices are now ensuring State’s duty to protect is being implemented by governments and effectuated on the ground.

NAPs for all

Generally, a NAP is a State-level policy document that outlines a government’s priorities, commitments, and proposed initiatives to address a specific policy issue. A NAP on business and human rights is a means for a State to practically engage its duty to protect human rights as defined in the UNGPs.

In John Ruggie’s June 2011 report – his final official statement while with the U.N. – he called on governments to initiate plans for implementing the Guiding Principles. Last fall, the U.K. became the first to do so, saying its National Action Plan “embodies [the U.K.’s] commitment to protect human rights by helping U.K. companies understand and manage human rights. This sends a clear message of our expectation about business behaviour, both in the UK and overseas.” ICAR lists five countries who have now drafted NAPs and begun implementation.

Today’s joint letter lays out a set of minimum criteria for NAPs on business and human rights, urging governments to develop and implement NAPs that:

1. Are evidence-based and developed from a mapping and gap analysis;
2. Are developed through meaningful consultation with all stakeholders;
3. Ensure policy coherence;
4. Include commitments by the State to establish and enforce regulations to protect against human rights abuses;
5. Guarantee access to effective judicial remedy; and
6. Identify and engage in monitoring and reporting mechanisms for periodic assessment.

A number of civil society coalitions signed onto the letter, including International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), of which Access is a member; the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ); the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE); and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA).

Access will continue to work with our partners to ensure that both governments and companies meet their commitments to protect and respect human rights.