Two Roads Converged: The Mutual Complementarity of a Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty and National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights
Adverse human rights impacts occur in business operations across all sectors.There is well documented evidence of such harms including, for example, low wages, excessive working hours, and child labor in the electronics and apparel sectors; human trafficking and questionable use of force in the private security sector; and forced labor and unsafe working conditions in the agricultural sector, to name a few.
At the global level, two major initiatives are currently underway that aim to address such harms by increasing business respect for human rights. First, governments have begun to make commitments to implement business and human rights frameworks in policy documents known as National Action Plans (NAPs)on business and human rights. These NAPs are most often aimed at furthering implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which were unanimously adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2011. Second, an international process toward a binding treaty on business and human rights has begun through the UNHRC’s adoption in 2014 of a resolution tabled by a group of States demanding mandatory measures in addressing businessrelated human rights harms. Since the adoption of this resolution, however, some stakeholders have voiced concerns that this new treaty process and the creation of NAPs are in competition with one another.Specifically, some have expressed concerns that the treaty process may divert resources and attention away from domestic implementation of the UNGPs, that States would use the treaty process as an excuse not to make domestic reforms in line with the UNGPs, and that reopening negotiations around business and human rights standards could cause a weakening of consensus gained around the UNGPs.
This article seeks to demonstrate that, not only are NAPs and the treaty process not in competition, these two global developments strongly benefit one another. First, NAPs processes will support the treaty process by identifying the most pressing gaps in protections and by highlighting which business and human rights issues governments agree on the most, which can then be used to target the content and scope of the treaty. Second, once a treaty is created, States that have gone through NAPs processes will be better equipped to identify which domestic reforms are necessary to become treaty–compliant. Third, NAPs processes lead to increased stakeholder capacity and knowledge about complex business and human rights issues, which then contributes to stakeholder engagement in the treaty process becoming more meaningful. Fourth, the dialogue around the treaty may foster new or strengthened relationships between business and human rights stakeholders from the Global North and those from the Global South, as well as strengthen already existing networks of business and human rights stakeholders in a way that will foster collaboration on efforts to implement the UNGPs. Finally, the increased attention on business and human rights that the treaty process has generated may bring new voices to the discussion around the implementation of the UNGPs. As such, these two roads currently traveled by business and human rights stakeholders are more converged than diverged, and, rather than viewing these efforts to be in opposition, each initiative should leverage the opportunities provided by the other.
Blackwell, Sara and Meulen, Nicole Vander
"Two Roads Converged: The Mutual Complementarity of a Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty and National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights,"
Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law: Vol. 6:
1, Article 5.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndjicl/vol6/iss1/5