News & Views

Towards a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights: Business Roundtables

In late May and early June, the GCNA and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade convened business roundtables to consider the development of an Australian National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

There is growing momentum globally around National Action Plans (NAPs) for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). To date, ten countries have launched NAPs (including the UK), and 26 others are in the process of developing one (including the US).

The Australian Government has made a voluntary commitment to undertake a national consultation on the implementation of the UNGPs during 2016. The development of a NAP is one way to further implementation of the UNGPs.

Roundtables were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, with the primary aim of introducing Australian businesses to the concept of NAPs. The roundtables also provided an opportunity to discuss key human rights challenges facing Australian businesses and explore initial views on potential gaps that an Australian NAP could fill and the consultation process for any such plan.

Traditionally, NAPs provide a way for governments to set out their expectations of business in relation to respecting human rights at home and abroad, provide clarity on the role of different government actors in supporting business and other stakeholders and as the name suggests, set out a plan for further actions which may help the government to fill any current implementation gaps regarding the UNGPs.

Highlights from the discussion are below, or read the full summary report from the business roundtables here.

 

Key discussion points

  • There was general support from business representatives for the development of an Australian NAP, and it was considered of benefit to have a clear statement of the Australian Government’s expectations of business in relation to human rights both at home and abroad.
  • If a NAP is developed, it would need to take into account existing government initiatives and voluntary activities being undertaken by business, so as not to duplicate or reinvent the wheel but focus on gaps.
  • A number of potential opportunities for a NAP were identified, including:
    • Australian domestic context: contributing to greater enforcement of existing Australian legislation relating to human rights, demystifying human rights for business, exploring ways of incentivising and empowering Australian businesses to be more proactive on human rights issues, establishing an Australian business and human rights hub (e.g. building on the GCNA’s Human Rights Leadership Group) and highlighting ways that businesses can have a positive impact on human rights.
    • High-risk jurisdictions: Australian Government support to build the capacity of other governments in conflict-affected and weak governance jurisdictions to put the right frameworks in place, continued support of Australian businesses operating in or entering other jurisdictions though DFAT / Australian Missions, support for Global Compact networks and other responsible business initiatives in Australia and overseas, and actions to appropriately engage those businesses ‘lagging behind’.
    • Supply chains: contributing to greater enforcement of existing Australian legislation relating to human rights including around labour hire, introducing an accreditation system for labour hire contractors, setting a high standard by further embedding human rights in government procurement processes, providing additional guidance, toolkits and support and convening and supporting multi-stakeholder dialogues.
    • Small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs): raising awareness of the relevance of human rights and their responsibilities among SMEs, developing specific guidance and toolkits targeted at SMEs, and supporting larger companies to build the human rights capacity of the SMEs in their supply chains.
    • Remedy: clarifying how the Australian Government can assist businesses in addressing adverse human rights impacts including through DFAT / Australian Missions overseas, raising awareness of the mechanisms available for resolving grievances both overseas and in Australia, exploring with all stakeholders whether Australia’s OECD National Contact Point is functioning effectively as a channel for resolving complaints related to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and convening different stakeholders and facilitating engagement and collaboration.
  • In terms of process, business representatives highlighted the importance of the Government transparently setting up a clear and well resourced consultation process. There was also general support for the idea of a National Baseline Assessment (NBA), to ensure any NAP does not duplicate existing initiatives or do work where it is not needed, but is targeted to fill gaps. The importance of multi-stakeholder consultations was also highlighted to ensure any NAP’s legitimacy as well as to help build key networks for future action.

 

Next steps

The Australian Government is considering the possibility of undertaking a National Baseline Assessment, and the national consultation process on implementation of the UNGPs, as committed to. Next steps will be made public in due course.

The GCNA will keep business updated on developments, and will continue engagement and dialogue with other stakeholder groups on the issue of a potential Australian NAP. The GCNA and Australian Human Rights Commission will convene the third Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights on 28 October 2016 which will also provide an opportunity to further discuss these issues in a multi-stakeholder setting.

 

Read the full summary report from the business roundtables here.