On 24 August 2015, Sweden has become the sixth country to release a National Action Plan (NAP) on the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
While Swedish civil society organisations (CSOs), including Amnesty International, welcome the publication of the action plan, they are also criticising the weak consultation process behind it, its lack of binding human rights due diligence mechanisms, and its failure to present concrete, specific and measurable action points.
ECCJ calls on all European Member States to continue developing National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights and address the responsibility of States to prevent abuses, protect human rights, and provide access to remedy for victims.
The consultation process, only consisting of two meetings between the Government and CSOs in April 2013 and March 2015, saw the presentation of a first proposal last spring. Despite several organisations submitting comments to this initial version, the final draft only contains a few of their observations, while the majority of the problems identified were left unaddressed.
One big issue pointed out by Swedish CSOs is that the NAP brings forth a small number of factual solutions: several measures outlined in it have already been implemented, such as conducting studies and adopting EU legislation, while others are inherently vague, regarding issues the Government should “consider” or “examine”. On one hand, the Government makes it clear that it expects Swedish companies to respect human rights and to comply with the UNGPs and other relevant guidelines, both in Sweden and abroad. But on the other, the plan does not attest to how the Government will ensure this happens.
What’s more, the NAP establishes no binding obligations on businesses, even if the UNGPs provide that States should use the full range of measures available, including legislation, to guarantee that human rights violations do not occur, and that a "smart mix" of mandatory standards and voluntary guidelines is advised.
On the plus side, the Swedish Government plans to conduct a baseline analysis of how the Swedish law relates to the UNGPs and see if there are gaps that need to be addressed. Although the comparison study would have been more effective if done before the NAP’s development, the fact that a review of Swedish law will takes place is regarded as a step in the right direction by Swedish CSOs. Another positive aspect is the fact that several of the NAP action points are focused on capacity building within state-owned enterprises and embassies, while multiple mentions are made of conflict areas being in need of special attention.
The publication of the NAP came with the promise that the Swedish Government regards it as the beginning of a process and that it will be subjected to a future revision in 2017.
ECCJ firmly believes that NAPs should be drafted on the basis of a National Baseline Assessment. By conducting an initial analysis of existing legislation, states are able to develop a more comprehensive action plan, which correctly identifies and sees to overcome the gaps in their national legal framework in relation to human rights protection against corporate abuse.
The NAPs need to specifically address the key issues of the responsibility of the State to safeguard human rights (UNGPs Pillar 1), of ensuring companies respect human rights due diligence (UNGPs Pillar 2) and of eliminating the legal and practical obstacles faced by victims when trying to access justice (UNGPs Pillar 3). For them to be effective, NAPs need to set-up mechanisms for monitoring and assessing the strategic actions they propose.
The process of developing NAPs should, in turn, be an open and transparent one, involving all relevant stakeholders, including civil society organisations and victims of corporate abuse.