In the new National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights 2022-2026 (NAP), Minister Liesje Schreinemacher indicates how she will implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). These United Nations principles set out how states and companies should make an effort to comply with human rights.
Under Pillar 1, the duties of the state, the new NAP focuses on the protection of human rights defenders. This is important given the global problem of a shrinking civil society. In our view, this subject deserves a more important place in the NAP. The Action Plan would gain relevance if the specific UN guidelines for the protection of human rights defenders were included in the implementation of the UNGP.
Civil Society and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Arisa experiences pressure on civil society in the countries where she works. Together with Dutch and European companies, we try to promote corporate social responsibility, especially in India. There, the democratic space has been limited step by step for years. The promotion of CSR is hindered because fewer local organizations are willing to enter into partnerships with Western organizations such as Arisa, or to engage in meaningful dialogue with Dutch companies, for fear of reprisals.
United Nations recommendations
For its specific guidelines, the UN Working Group on Promotion of the UNGP looked at threats to human rights defenders from their work around businesses as well as the broader trend of shrinking space for civil society. Both fit in with the development of the curtailment of democratic space by an “autocratic wave”, often reinforced by COVID-19 measures.
Arisa misses many of the UN recommendations in support of civil society in the NAP and insists on putting these clearly on the agenda.
Economic diplomacy and embassies
Embassies should support human rights defenders and include this issue in their multi-year strategy. Staff should be trained in the protection of human rights defenders and human rights and business. In addition, contact with human rights defenders should be an explicit work priority, and embassies should respond to threats or lawsuits through diplomacy, mediation and active and visible follow-up of the lawsuits, including in remote areas.
Economic diplomacy and business support
The government has a responsibility to hold companies accountable for their role. The NAP refers to “aligning subsidy frameworks with the obligations and present that suit ICSR”. State-controlled companies or investments should set an example in the active protection of human rights defenders. Government aid and economic diplomacy to companies, including subsidies and export credit insurance, should require companies to protect human rights defenders in accordance with UN guidelines.
National Action Plan and trade policy
According to the UN recommendations, the protection of human rights defenders must also be explicitly on the agenda in trade and economic policy. The NAP does not (yet) provide for this. Expansion of this is therefore necessary. As trade negotiations are currently taking place between the EU and India, these recommendations can be immediately translated into action in a European context. This includes a specific impact assessment for the position of human rights defenders and agreements to protect them and involve them in the negotiations on trade and investment agreements.
The new National Business and Human Rights Action Plan shows where governments and companies can work for human rights but does not provide sufficient support to civil society and human rights defenders. Including the specific UN guidelines for the protection of human rights defenders in the implementation of the UNGP would significantly strengthen the NAP.