Since their unanimous adoption by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – which establish an international standard for counteracting and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights in the business context – have been promoted by countries and increasingly enterprises.  The UNGPs rest on three chapters or “pillars” referred to as the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework, which encompasses:

  • Pillar I:  the state duty to protect human rights;
  • Pillar II:  the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
  • Pillar III:  access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses.

In an effort to implement the first pillar, certain states have launched policy commitments called National Action Plans (NAPs) that articulate their position on business and human rights, expectations for businesses on integrating human rights into their operations, and plans for implementing legislation or other remedial efforts to address deficiencies in human rights protections.

In order to complete the drafting process, states collect civil society and business recommendations to foster discussion of the UNGPs and address constituencies’ diverse views.  NAPs may recommend steps such as requiring transparency in government supply chains, expanding protections against child labour and unsafe working conditions, and harmonizing purchasing power. 

A number of countries have launched NAPs to incorporate the UNGPs into national law and policy, the UK being the first to do so in 2013.  Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden followed and a number of other governments have committed to developing them or are in the process of doing so, among them Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.

In terms of recent developments, the US – which began a national consultation process in September 2014 and had its last round of consultations in April 2015  – recently released a statement articulating the government’s “human rights commitments and pledges” and highlighted its upcoming adoption of a NAP on responsible business conduct that aims to promote responsible business conduct consistent with the UNGPs as well as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which are government-based recommendations on responsible business behaviour.

Then on March 16, Australia announced that it would begin its national consultation on the implementation of the UNGPs this year.  To that end, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in conjunction with a business-led consortium of companies, non-profits, and universities, will hold roundtables in May to push forward the consultation process.  With its announcement, Australia becomes the fortieth country to begin the NAP drafting process.  Both it and the US are seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council next year.