On September 24th, the White House announced its Global Anti-Corruption Agenda, confirming its commitment to long-standing programs across the U.S. government to promote anti-corruption, transparency and open government both domestically and overseas. In addition, it announced “the United States will develop a National Action Plan to promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anti-corruption, consistent with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.” This news was welcomed by the human rights community and generally acknowledged as long overdue.
Within the context of the “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” framework at the heart of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council has called on Member States to develop National Action Plans (NAPs) to support implementation of the UNGPs within their respective national contexts. Already, a number of western states have issued National Action Plans including the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark and Spain and two other states (Finland and Switzerland) are currently developing plans.
As noted in their recent report, National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights: A Toolkit for the Development, Implementation, and Review of State Commitments to Business and Human Rights Frameworks, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and the Danish Institute on Human Rights (DIHR) note that “UN human rights treaty bodies, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG), national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and civil society groups have begun to supply some thematic guidance on business and human rights that is directed toward States and that takes the UNGPs into account. Yet, there have been no studies so far that directly address the full scope of [the Guiding Principles]. As such, tools for those within governments who are given responsibility for the UNGPs portfolio are lacking, as are benchmarks for those outside government who are tasked with monitoring implementation by the government and holding the State to account.” It is within this context that the U.S. is moving forward to develop its own NAP.”
In the months to come, both the process and the framework utilized by the U.S. government will come under close scrutiny from both civil society groups and businesses concerned with the final form of the NAP. As a starting point, the U.S. government will face the initial challenge of developing an impartial national baseline assessment with respect to how it currently contributes to the realization of the UNGPs. This initial step in the development of a U.S. NAP will lay the foundation for a hopefully comprehensive assessment of both of sector-specific issues as well as thematic problems facing the U.S. in its role as the home state for many of the largest transnational corporations in the world. In addition, the plan will need to properly address the jurisdiction of the U.S. government both within its borders and globally.
This process will undoubtedly set the stage for considerable debate and will likely trigger ideological posturing in Washington. Whether informed thinkers from government, business and civil society can overcome political pressures and find a reasoned consensus for the development of a NAP remains to be seen. But as noted in the ICAR/DIHR report, “[w]hile business entities themselves must take responsibility for their impacts and amend their policies and practices to better respect human rights, it is ultimately up to States, individually and collectively, to protect the human rights of individuals and communities. . . The process for developing NAPs must be clearly owned, adequately resourced, transparent, and involve the full spectrum of relevant stakeholders, including businesses, civil society actors, affected communities, and rights-holders.”