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A critical assessment of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (2017 update)

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ICAR (International Corporate Accountability Roundtable), ECCJ and Dejusticia have published a joint report providing a cross-country overview and an individual assessment of the existing National Action Plans (NAPs) on business and human rights. The report highlights that none of these NAPs lives up to its potential to articulate an ambitious set of measures to better protect human rights against corporate abuse.

The creation of NAPs on business and human rights is a step toward increased accountability for State action in implementing key business and human rights frameworks, including the UNGPs.

To date, 18 countries* have developed and approved NAPs, including the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Colombia, Italy, Switzerland, the US, Germany, France, Poland, Indonesia, Chile, Belgium and Spain.

Additionally, a number of other States are in the process of developing NAPs or have publicly announced an intention to do so - including an increasing number of countries in the Latin American and ASEAN regions. As the creation of NAPs on business and human rights continues to proliferate globally, it is essential that existing NAPs be closely analyzed in terms of their content and processes in order to assess best practice and to suggest areas for improvement going forward.

This third iteration of the NAPs assessment report, co-authored by ICAR, ECCJ, and Dejusticia, aims to further support the development and review of NAPs on business and human rights by providing an assessment of the 11 NAPs available in English before April 2017. It updates the ICAR-ECCJ November 2015 publication by incorporating assessments of the NAPs of Norway, Colombia, United Kingdom (2016 iteration), Italy, Switzerland, and United States.

The reports provides for assessment summaries looking at process and content, and full assessment tables touching upon all 25 criteria outlined in the ICAR-DIHR NAPs Checklist.

The assessment highlights that all governments have failed to deliver a robust business and human rights agenda, both on process and content. Among the shortcomings observed: failure to conduct national baseline assessments that ensures an evidence-based process; lack of transparency of the drafting process; lack of adequate framework for monitoring the implementation. While all NAPs continue the trend of expounding upon past actions and the state of play, some recent NAPs have done a better job in laying out commitments for future actions. However in the majority of cases they are overly vague and dont provide information about concrete steps the State will take.

On the content, there are two major weakness. First, existing NAPs don't sufficiently explore regulatory options to ensure adequate human rights protection. They focus on a voluntary approach to corporate responsibility - such as awareness-raising, training, research, promotion of best practice - rather than putting forward binding obligations that would level up the playing field and create accountability mechanisms. There are only timid acknowledgements that regulatory approach should be considered - as in the Italian NAP that plans to assess the current legal framework and whether it should be extended by introducing a duty of care legislation.

Second, they neglect the issue of access to remedies which is either briefly addressed or not at all. In all jurisdictions there are still insuperable obstacles for victims of human rights abuses to access courts. These barriers are practical, procedural, financial, and legal. Several NAPs don’t acknowledge the severity of the problem – and none is putting forward concrete solutions to expand access to judicial remedies domestically.

States need to do more and better to fulfill their duties to protect human rights. It is hoped that our assessments are used to help provide critical and structured feedback to States who have already developed NAPs and to provide a reference point for States that are on the path to developing NAPs.


*At the time of the publication of this updated report, the NAPs of Germany, France, and Poland had not yet been translated into English, hindering a full assessment by the report authors. In addition, the NAPs of Indonesia, Belgium, Spain, and Chile were published after the report publication cut-off date. ICAR and ECCJ aim to conduct assessments of these NAPs, and all future NAPs as they are published. 

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