When dealing with the issue of human rights abuses related to businesses, we are often faced with the question where the responsibility of the state ends and that of a corporation begins. This dilemma has stimulated a critical debate that, after a long period of preparation, led in 2011 to agreements being made by the international community in the form of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). These guidelines present an outline of the state’s obligations, i.e. the ‘duty to protect’, and of corporate responsibilities, namely the ‘responsibility to respect’. The UNGPs further emphasise the need for victims of human rights abuses to have access to ‘effective remedy’. The challenge now lies in actually implementing the UNGPs.
At a conference in Berlin on November 25th, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, publicly voiced her concern that the Dutch clothing brands Coolcat, Prénatal and Wibra are dodging their responsibility for labour conditions in the supply chain by not signing the ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety Accord in Bangladesh’. The Minister’s 'naming and shaming' strategy proved to be extremely effective – within days of the Minister’s statement, two of the three brands named indicated that they would sign the Accord.
On March 7 2013 the social democratic party (PvdA) called for a national corporate accountability ombudsman during a parliamentary debate on CSR. They see the need for better monitoring of corporate behaviour. Jan Vos, MP for the PvdA states that after the launch of international guidelines and agreements on corporate accountability, time has come to make sure that companies respect the rules. A corporate accountability ombudsman should have the possibility to initiate investigations and to impose sanctions (including fines). Many opposition parties reacted in favor of this proposal (ChristenUnie, SP, GroenLinks and D66). However, the Christian democrats and coalition partner VVD (the liberals) are not in favor.
In recent years, the concept of human rights due diligence (HRDD) has risen to prominence in the field of Business and Human Rights and is now embedded in several international agreements including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational enterprises. HRDD is a process companies must undertake to assess properly the risks and impacts of their operations with regard to human rights, and to design and implement a plan to prevent and mitigate these risks and impacts.
The Danish presidency of the European Union is hosting an expert conference on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Copenhagen on the 7 and 8 May. ECCJ will be participating to this event and has sent preliminary recommendations in order to specify the priorities for the European Commission and the EU Member States in implementing the UNGP.