On June 29th, the Chilean Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS) hosted a colloquium on human rights and business for OAS country missions and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Dante Pesce – the new UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights member from Latin America – was invited to speak about the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), including current efforts of implementation by states through National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights.
According to the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, “National Action Plans (NAPs) are policy documents in which a State articulates priorities and actions that it will adopt to support the implementation of international, regional, or national obligations and commitments with regard to a given policy area or topic.” In the Americas, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States have committed to carrying out such public policy efforts in relation to business and human rights.
The presentation was followed by a frank discussion among the OAS Member States on the challenges governments face in adopting the UNGPs and other relevant standards. These include that ‘human rights and business’ is a cross-cutting issue in government, implicating a diverse set of institutions including Foreign, Labour, Environment, Economy, Mining, and Justice Ministries, among others. Translating international commitments into national implementation when there is no clear ownership for these commitments is a significant barrier to implementing the UNGPs and ensuring policy coherence across government.
Other reasons relate to political will, or the lack thereof. Corruption and corporate capture are potent disincentives for governments considering the implementation of the UNGPs or relevant standards. The lack of political will is also an issue for transparent and well-meaning governments who wish to attract foreign investment, and nurture small and medium sized enterprises at home. They fear that placing additional human rights requirements on business will a have negative impact on their economies and thus do more harm than good.
While these and other points were addressed by the UN Working Group representative, other missions expanded on the discussion by referring to global developments on a binding treaty on business and human rights. The Ecuadorian Mission to the OAS, for example, noted the ongoing process at the United Nations regarding the development of a treaty that would address the impacts of multinational companies on human rights. While nationally Ecuador has done little to adopt the UNGPs, they have been the leading proponent for a binding treaty, and in June 2014, Ecuador and others successfully passed a Resolution at the UN Human Rights Council calling on the creation of an Inter-Governmental Working Group to develop such a treaty.
While efforts to develop a treaty may have positive impacts for human rights in the long-run, the speed with which international law develops means governments must focus on short and medium-term efforts that will yield results for individuals and communities now. Efforts to implement the UNGPs, in other words, must go on. Accordingly, Mr. Pesce closed the session by informing country representatives that the UN Working Group seeks to scale up local efforts toward implementation and focus on the challenges faced in the process during the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in November this year in Geneva.