Are states making progress on the UN guiding principles on business and human rights? Challenges, innovations and lessons learned from implementation (Part I and Part II)

26 Nov 2018 01:00h

Event report

The session was organised by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and was divided in two main parts. Moderated by Mr Dante Pesce (Chairperson UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights), the first part of the session covered government perspectives on the implementation of the guiding principles of business and human rights. The experiences and challenges from France, Liberia, and Thailand were addressed in a panel discussion, while additional contributions from the floor were added by ambassadors and state representatives from Colombia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, the European Union, Brazil, Slovenia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Indonesia, India, and Belgium.

The first speaker, Mr Somn Promaros (Director-General of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice, Thailand), talked about the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Thailand. He explained the steps undertook by the Thai government for the national action plan following an oriented and substantive pathway, covering areas such as  but not limited to labour, national resources and community rights. Moreover, the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is interlinked and reinforced in the framework of human rights. Finally, he stressed the importance of youth and the principle of leading by example in implementing the guidelines.

Ms Lorena Recabarren (Sub-Secretary of Human Rights, Government of Chile), speaking from a governmental position, explained the efforts taken by Chile so far. In order to achieve the fulfillment of the guiding principles, collaborative efforts are needed: therefore, in the case of Chile, strengthening the department of human rights is a priority in public policy. Nonetheless, coordinating the human rights-based approach in the implementation of public policy still represents a challenge on topics such as but not limited to  transitional justice, indigenous people, women, and children’s rights. Chile adopted its first national plan, which will be entering into force in 2019, featured by the leading principle of business as responsible for the protection of human rights in their activities and practices.

Ms Maylis Souque (Secretary-General French NCP Responsible Business Conduct, Ministry of Economy, France) talked about the leading experience of France in the implementation of mandatory due diligence through the complementary role of instruments of soft and hard law. With this regard, Souque highlighted the relevance of the French law on vigilance, characterised by a reporting feature, as well as a concrete impact on workers covering all dimensions of due diligence, including the supply chain dimension of the processes, as well as other topics such as security and sustainability. Such an approach is meant to have a cascade effect on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) on both national and international levels. These imply concrete solutions and remedies when a violation of human rights occurs. Finally, she highlighted France’s focus on the implementation of circular economy as well as social-solidarity economy.

Mr Meo Beyan (Assistant Minister for Economic Affairs, Ministry for Economic Affairs, Liberia) explained the efforts Liberia is implementing to make sure that corporate actors ensure the protection of human rights in their activities and practices. The process is a non-exhaustive one and it should be supported by less bureaucratic mechanisms on the national level, as well as through the creation of unions with the mandate of persevering the protection of human rights.

The session then featured comments from the floor, adding additional perspectives from the experiences of Colombia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, the European Union, Brazil, Slovenia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Indonesia, and Belgium.

Colombia stressed the fundamental role of involving different stakeholders, as well as creating inter-agency groups, in addressing the implementation of the guidelines. The Netherlands highlighted the Dutch pioneer practice of concluding agreements between policy units, business units and NGOs. To date, six agreements have been signed to ensure responsible business conduct. The EU highlighted the achievements made so far by the development and implementation of regulations on the disclosure of financial information, as well as on the timber regulation. Moreover, the EU is implementing a soft law initiative on ensuring sustainable economic growth. Switzerland stressed that more visibility is needed for more effectiveness on the protection of human rights.

The second part of the session focused on the implementation of national actions plans (NAPs) on business and human rights. It was introduced by Mr Daniel Morris (Adviser, Human Rights and Business, The Danish Institute for Human Rights), who explored the findings of the current state of NAPs. As in the first part of the session, a panel discussion addressed the experiences and challenges from Sweden, Japan, Italy, Germany, and Kenya, and was followed by additional comments on national implementations.

Mr Fabrizio Petri (President of the Italian Inter-ministerial Committee for Human Rights, The Government of Italy BHR, HUMAN RIGHTS, LGBTI RIGHTS, ATHEISM) talked about the pathway of the Italian National Action Plan. The plan represents a strong commitment for the protection of the rights of less-represented categories, which after the mid-term review, will address the more effective protection of the rights of media managers and journalists. The Italian NAP was built in three moments. First, the steering committee started the work on an institutional level. Second, a multistakeholder dialogue was put in place and involved more than eighty entities. Third, an online consultation meant to reach a broader audience involved ten additional entities. Finally, reinforcing human rights and sustainable development is the key to putting human dignity at the centre of the attention again.

Mr Jakob Kiefer (CSR Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden) explained that the NAP was approved in 2016. The policies are based on the Global Compact principle, as well as gender, sustainability, and taxation. One of the biggest challenges is to assist and have a dialogue with firms in the field, as well as the eventual lack of competence in the area of CSR. ‘The state has to lead and show by example’ and a human rights perspective has to come with a top-down approach in all companies. In terms of challenges, the issue of procurement should be taken into consideration, as well as the need to assess a more effective location of funds. Moreover, while the discussions on having compulsory mechanisms for due diligence might sound premature, there is a need to reconsider and achieve first and foremost the principle of ‘do no harm’ as a guiding one for companies.

Ms Irene Maria Plank (Head of Division ‘Business and Human Rights’, Federal Foreign Office, Germany) focused on multistakeholder involvement and on the achievement reached on the responsible and sustainable measurement of supply and value chain. Moreover, Germany has created a pilot project meant to help German firms operating in foreign countries to follow the principle of due diligence. The mandate is to create a collection of information that German firms can refer to, evaluate the takeaways, and eventually expand the project worldwide.

Ms Stella Wangechi (Senior Human Rights Officer, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Kenya The NAP development process in Kenya) said that Africa does not currently have a NAP; however, Kenya is finalising its NAP, addressing priority areas such as land, labour, environment, revenue management, and access to remedies. In countries like Kenya, where the business landscape is mainly made up of small enterprises, it is difficult to stream due diligence into the practice of such companies. This represented the main challenge in achieving the NAP in Kenya.

The final speaker, Mr Ken Okaniwa (Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Japan in Geneva), shared Japan’s experience in developing its NAP. Japan included the NAP into the expanded SDGs national plan, and in the growth strategy for the country. Nonetheless, access to remedy was one of the main issues discussed in the multistakeholders consultations which requires further attention and efforts.