National plans on business and human rights and the latest from Ireland

The United Nations Working Group on business and human rights has just launched a repository of national action plans aimed at implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. Although it is almost three years since the Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles, and over two years since the European Commission invited member states of the EU to develop national implementation plans, there have only been a couple of such plans adopted thus far. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands came out with such plans late last year, and Spain, Denmark and Switzerland are currently quite advanced in their efforts to develop these. The British and Dutch efforts are not especially complex or comprehensive, but negotiating the tricky interdepartmental nature of responsibility for business and human rights may be one explanation as to why these national efforts have taken so long.

Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

The Working Group’s repository shows that Ireland is not alone in having yet to bring out a national implementation plan on the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. Readers of the blog will recall that the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked the Irish Government to explain how it addresses concerns regarding the activities of Irish domiciled companies that may give rise to human rights concerns overseas. In its official response to the Committee last week, Ireland explained that a national implementation plan for the United Nations Guiding Principles remains a work in progress:

Ireland is considering how best to implement the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework”. The Guiding Principles cover a range of issues which span the policy responsibilities of a number of Government Departments and agencies. Consideration is being given as to how best to formulate Ireland’s national plan for their implementation, including through learning from other countries that have undertaken similar processes.

When Ireland comes before the Human Rights Committee this summer, it is to be expected that the Committee will impress upon the Government the importance of ensuring that companies domiciled in Ireland are made aware of their responsibility to respect human rights “throughout their operations”. A national plan of action is not a panacea of course, but it affirms a State’s commitment to ensuring business respect for human rights and the adoption of such might also be recommended by the Committee.

There is a wealth of guidance available to States developing national implementation plans for the Guiding Principles on business and human rights. In addition to the existing British and Dutch plans (and some critical commentary on those), the United Nations Working Group has held consultations and various non-governmental organisations have produced useful reports and tools on the topic, usefully collated by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable and the Danish Institute on Business and Human Rights have a national actions plans project currently underway. Al Haq have developed specific language which they recommend be included in national plans, with specific reference to international humanitarian law and the role of national legal and regulatory frameworks.

The need for consultation in the development of national plans needs to be emphasised. Professor Michael Addo, a member of the United Nations Working Group on business and human rights put it that:

… the Working Group expects that, within government, steps should be taken to ensure policy coherence based on clear leadership. In addition, we all agree that consultation, especially multistakeholder consultation, is an important part of the National Action Plans process.

The Irish government has not yet announced any formal consultation regarding its development of a national implementation plan for the United Nations Guiding Principles, but such a process is to be expected.

Ireland’s response to the Human Rights Committee also included a discussion of export control measures and how human rights are considered in that context, to which I will return in a future post.

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