National Human Rights Institutions as Gateways to Remedy under the UNGPs: The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (Part.1) - By Alexandru Tofan

Editor's Note: Alexandru Rares Tofan recently graduated with an LLM in Transnational Law from King’s College London where he focused on international human rights law, transnational litigation and international law. He is currently an intern with the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute in The Hague. He previously worked as a research assistant at the Transnational Law Institute in London on several projects pertaining to human rights, labour law and transnational corporate conduct.


The national human rights institution of the Netherlands is the College voor de Rechten van de Mens (i.e. ‘the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights’). It was established on 1 October 2012 with the entering into force of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights Act of 24 November 2011 as supplemented by the Explanatory Memorandum (EP). It is an independent public body whose mission is to promote, monitor and protect human rights in practice, policy and legislation (see NIHR Act s.1 (3)). For these purposes, it enjoys a wide competence that spans the full breadth of human rights whether stemming from national or international legislation (see EP at page 7). The Institute’s duties include conducting investigations, reporting and making recommendations, advising, providing information, encouraging research, pressing for the observance of internationally recognised human rights, and assessing any complaints alleging violations that it may have received (see NIHR Act s.3). The types of complaints it may entertain are nevertheless rather limited – the Institute may only investigate claims alleging discrimination or unequal treatment (see NIHR Act s.10 (1)).

This article analyses two types of actions in order to assess the extent to which the Institute has assumed its role in promoting access to remedy in business and human rights cases. According to the 2010 Edinburgh Declaration of the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC), the participation of NHRIs in the remedial process may be either direct or indirect. As will be shown, the Dutch NHRI is envisioned as an institution that leans more on indirect rather than direct participation in providing access to remedy.

In terms of direct participation, the complaints procedure of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights has a rather narrow scope. Section 10 of the Act stipulates that the Institute may conduct investigations into allegations of violations in so far as they relate to discrimination or unequal treatment under the Equal Treatment Act, the Equal Treatment (Men and Women) Act or Article 646, Book 7 of the Dutch Civil Code. Although the complaint may be submitted against any type of Dutch-based company (see S. 10 (2) (a)–(e)), the limited subject matter jurisdiction prevents the Institute from being a one-stop shop for business-related human rights abuses. This is especially true for transnational corporate misconduct, which normally entails cross-cutting/intersectional human rights abuses. In the same vein, the Institute may only bring a legal action before the courts if this claim relates to discrimination under the aforementioned legislation (see S.13). The Memorandum attached to the Act explains that ‘[…] [g]iven the legal protection already available in the Netherlands and the possibility of lodging a complaint with an ombudsman the government sees no good reason to give the Institute its own jurisdiction to hear legal actions in the broad field of human rights […]’ and that ‘[…] [i]n response to a complaint, the National Ombudsman may investigate whether or not the state has acted properly […] To prevent overlapping it is therefore undesirable for this responsibility to be given to the Institute […]’. The National Ombudsman may nevertheless only exercise authority over public bodies (see Article 1a). In turn, this means that complaints lodged against private actors arguing violations of human rights other than discrimination escape both the Institute and the National Ombudsman. While it is true that the general legal protection available in the Netherlands would apply in those cases, the role of the NHRI as a complementary grievance mechanism is in this way restricted. Under the UNGPs, NHRIs are supposed to offer an alternative to instituting legal proceedings. The rationale behind this is that bringing a legal action may involve many obstacles for the victim such as prohibitive costs, imbalance of expertise between parties, lack of standing for foreign nationals, and protracted duration. Conversely, an NHRI complaints mechanism is perceived as more accessible, expeditious and culturally-appropriate.[1] The limited subject matter jurisdiction of the Institute in handling complaints may therefore be seen as impeding its full direct participation in providing access to remedy.

As to indirect participation, one of the main tasks of the Institute is to promote and monitor human rights (see S.3). The Institute has a rather robust presence in the area of business and human rights in the Netherlands and performs an important role in promoting human rights in this policy area. For instance, the Institute drew up a comprehensive response to the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights put forward by the Dutch government in December 2013. This response entailed an in-depth examination of the plan’s compatibility with the UNGPs as well as advice and recommendations for its improvement. Notably, it included a rights-based approach in that it looked at the issue of access to remedy from the victims’ perspectives. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights further advised the government on the proposed law on child labour in supply chains, the human rights implications of the new model bilateral investment treaty, and it partook in the discussions regarding the national sector covenants (e.g. the Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile). It further participates in the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights alongside other stakeholders. Furthermore, the cross-cutting nature of business-related human rights abuses means that they permeate the Institute’s work in other policy areas. For instance, the Institute’s work on the right to housing implies the usage of the UNGPs as a framework to ascertain the human rights responsibilities of housing corporations. In the same vein, one of the four themes from the Institute’s Strategy Plan for 2016-2019 is discrimination and stereotyping in the labour market. This necessarily involves an assessment of the human rights obligations of corporations. The Institute has therefore assumed a firm standing in terms of indirect participation in the implementation of the UNGPs. It promotes education, monitors human rights implementation, undertakes capacity-building exercises, advises and issues recommendations. Nevertheless, one cannot help but notice the absence of business and human rights from the Institute’s Strategic Plan for 2016-2019.

To conclude, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights seems to have only partially assumed the role envisioned for it under the UNGPs as a national human rights institution. On the one hand, it did establish itself as a focal point for expertise on human rights issues in the Netherlands and has taken important steps to promote and advise on issues of business and human rights. On the other hand, a broader mandate would conform more to the second leg of the Paris Principles and to the spirit and aim of the Third Pillar of the UNGPs – the protection of human rights by receiving, investigating and resolving complaints.


[1]           UN Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises – Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights’ (7 April 2008) A/HRC/8/5 at page 25.

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – December 2018 & January 2019 - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a contributor to the Doing Business Right project of the Asser Institute. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.

 

Introduction

This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to contribute to this compilation via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we may have overlooked.

 

The Headlines

German court rejects KiK lawsuit

On 10 January 2019, a regional court in Dortmund, Germany rejected a lawsuit brought by four affected Pakistanis that related to the death of 262 people and injury of 32 people at a Pakistani textile factory in 2012. The factory was a key supplier to German clothing company, KiK. The case was rejected on the basis that the statute of limitations had expired, despite computer simulation evidence demonstrating that inadequate safety measures were in place at the factory at the time, including no stairs and emergency exits, as well as a lack of fire extinguishers and fire alarms. It was argued that KiK ‘knew or should have known about the structural details if, as they claim, their representatives visited the factory several times’. Read more here and here.

Canadian Supreme Court hears Nevsun appeal

On 23 January 2019, the Canadian Supreme Court heard evidence involving a lawsuit involving Nevsun Resources, a Canadian mining company, which is accused of being complicit in using forced labour by one if its sub-contractors at the Bisha mine in Eritrea. The case was initially brought in 2014 by four Eritrean miners.

In 2016, the British Colombian Supreme Court rejected Nevsun’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was upheld by the British Colombian Court of Appeal in 2017. In 2018, the Canadian Supreme Court allowed Nevsun to appeal the decision of the British Colombian Court of Appeal with the trial being heard earlier this year. The Canadian Supreme Court will need to decide, inter alia, whether it has jurisdiction to hear cases involving alleged breaches of customary international law by a Canadian business involving its actions in a foreign country. Read more here.

Canada introduces bill regulating forced labour and child labour within businesses

On 13 December 2018 a private members bill was introduced in Canada titled ‘C-423 – An Act respecting the fight against certain forms of modern slavery through the imposition of certain measures and amending the Customs Tariff’ (the Bill) to regulate forced labour and child labour in businesses. The Bill requires certain entities[1] to provide the Minister with an annual modern slavery report that sets out the steps it has taken to ‘prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any step of the manufacture, production, growing, extraction or processing of goods in Canada or elsewhere by the entity or of goods imported into Canada by the entity.’ Other criteria that must be included in the report includes the entity’s policies in relation to forced labour and child labour and the training provided to employees on these areas. The Bill carries penalties for non-compliance; namely, the relevant entity may be liable of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine of up to $250,000.

UK releases report with recommendations to improve transparency in supply chains provision of Modern Slavery Act

The Independent Review of the UK Modern Slavery Act recently released an interim report. The report notes that the UK Government’s current approach to eradicating modern slavery in supply chains through the transparency in supply chains provision ‘while a step forward, is not sufficient’. Among other things, the report recommends that the UK Government should take the following action to improve its approach to addressing modern slavery in supply chains:

  • Establish an internal list of companies in scope of the transparency in supply chains provision and check with companies whether they are covered by the legislation.
  • Amend the option reporting criteria against which businesses may report, so that they are mandatory criteria against which businesses must report.
  • Set up a central government-run repository to which companies are required to upload their statements and that is easily accessible to the public, free of charge.
  • Empower the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to monitor compliance and report annually.
  • Strengthen the Modern Slavery Act’s approach to tackling non-compliance with the reporting requirement, adopting a gradual approach. For example, initial warnings, fines (as a percentage of turnover), court summons and directors’ disqualification.
  • Introduce sanctions gradually over the next few years so as to give businesses time to adapt to changes in the legislative requirements.
  • Set up or assign an enforcement body to impose sanctions on non-compliant companies.

 More...

Towards reforming the fair and equitable treatment standard in International Investment Agreements - By Dr. Yulia Levashova & Prof. Tineke Lambooy (Nyenrode Business University)

Introduction

One of the most important pillars of investment protection under international law is the understanding that a foreign investor investing in a host state should be treated ‘fairly and equitably.’ The importance of this notion is supported by the inclusion of the fair and equitable treatment (FET) standard in most of the International Investment Agreements (IIAs), as well as its invocation in the vast majority of investment disputes. However, the concern has been expressed frequently that a broad interpretation of this usually openly formulated provision has an adverse impact on the host state’s ‘right to regulate’ in the public interest. These concerns have been voiced particularly as a result of FET claims in which investors have challenged a variety of state decisions in publicly sensitive areas, e.g. renewable energy, waste management, public health issues, and access to water. In this regard, tribunals have often been criticised for attaching insufficient weight in their assessment of the FET standard to a host state’s right to regulate and its duty to fulfil its obligations under other international treaties, such as human rights and environmental treaties.More...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – September 2018 - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


Introduction

This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to contribute to this compilation via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we may have overlooked.

The Headlines

Chevron Corporation and Texaco Petroleum Company v The Republic of Ecuador

On 30 August 2018 an international tribunal administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued an award in favour of Chevron Corporation and Texaco Petroleum Company, holding that the Republic of Ecuador had violated its obligations under international treaties, investment agreements and international law. The tribunal found that a $9.5 billion judgment handed down by Ecuador’s Supreme Court in the Lago Agrio case was procured through fraud, bribery and corruption. It also found that the Republic of Ecuador had already released the claims that formed the basis of the judgment years before. The tribunal concluded that the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment is “not final, enforceable, or conclusive under Ecuadorian and international law” and therefore cannot be enforced within or outside of Ecuador and that it “violates international public policy and natural justice”.

Draft Optional Protocol to Business and Human Rights Treaty

On 4 September 2018 the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the UN and other International Organizations in Geneva presented the ‘Draft Optional Protocol To The Legally Binding Instrument To Regulate, In International Human Rights Law, The Activities Of Transnational Corporations And Other Business Enterprises’ (Optional Protocol). The Optional Protocol focuses on ensuring State Parties to the Optional Protocol establish mechanisms that provide access to remedy for victims of human rights violations in the context of business activities of a transnational character. It also provides individuals and group with the ability to make communications to the Committee of experts. More...



The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Reactions to the Draft - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.

 

Since the release of the first draft of the BHR Treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’), a range of views have been exchanged by commentators in the field in relation to the content of the treaty (a number of them are available on a dedicated page of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre’s website). While many have stated that the treaty is a step in the right direction to imposing liability on businesses for human rights violations, there are a number of critiques of the first draft, which commentators hope will be rectified in the next version.

This second blog of a series of articles dedicated to the proposed BHR Treaty provides a review of the key critiques of the treaty. It will be followed by a final blog outlining some recommendations for the working group’s upcoming negotiations between 15 to 19 October 2018 in Geneva. More...

The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Introducing the Draft - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.

By resolution, on 26 June 2014 the UN Human Rights Council adopted Ecuador’s proposal to establish an inter-governmental working group mandated ‘to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises’. The proposal was adopted by 20 to 14 votes, with 13 abstentions, and four years later, in July this year, the working group published the first draft of the treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’). Shortly after, the draft Optional Protocol to the draft treaty was released. The Optional Protocol focuses on access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses by businesses.

This first blog of a series of articles dedicated to the proposed BHR Treaty provides an overview of the main elements of the draft. It will be followed by a review of the reactions to the Draft, and a final piece outlining some recommendations for the upcoming negotiations. More...

The Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on Human Rights: Changing the Paradigm from ‘Opportunity to Affect’ to ‘Responsibility to Respect’ – By Benjamin Thompson

Editor’s note: Benjamin Thompson is a PhD candidate in business and human rights at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. His PhD research deals with the effects of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights' endorsement of operational level, non-judicial grievance mechanisms and their role in improving access to remedy. He recently published an article for Utrecht Law Review’s Special Issue on Accountability of Multinational Corporations for Human Rights Abuses which discussed the roles the new Dutch multistakeholder initiative with the Dutch banking sector might play in improving banks’ performance with respect to human rights.


In November of last year the Asser Institute offered me the opportunity to take part in a roundtable on the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement (DBA), as part of their Doing Business Right Project. Signed in December 2017, the DBA is a collaboration between the banking sector, the government, trade unions and civil society organisations (CSOs), all based within the Netherlands: the first of its kind. It focuses on banks’ responsibility to respect human rights, as stipulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines), within their corporate lending and project finance activities. The DBA has been something of a hot topic in business and human rights circles. However, it has not yet published a public monitoring report, making any evaluation of its performance at this stage difficult. During the roundtable, we discussed the role of the DBA as a potential means to improve the practices of Dutch banks with respect to human rights. A key challenge identified from this discussion, as reported here, was the various ‘interpretive ambiguities inherent in the UNGPs’. A key conclusion was that ‘further dialogue is required... to ascertain what conduct on the part of the banks is consistent with international obligations’.

This is not a unique conclusion to arise from multistakeholder discussions on banks and human rights; the discussion often focuses on what financial institutions are required to do to meet their responsibility to respect human rights under the UNGPs. So much so that questions concerning implementation or evaluation are often left by the wayside. As a result, when presenting my research on the DBA for the Utrecht Centre of Accountability and Liability Law’s Conference on ‘Accountability and International Business Operations’, published here, I decided to focus on how the DBA had responded to those key points of friction where there is the greatest disagreement between how different stakeholders conceive banks’ human rights responsibilities. This blog post seeks to build on this previous entry, hopefully without too much repetition. More...



Business and Human Rights Internship - Asser Institute - Deadline for Application 10 August

We are looking for a new business and human rights intern starting early September 2018 for a period of at least three months, preferably full-time. The Internship will be based at the Asser Institute in The Hague.


Main tasks:

  • Contribute and develop research outputs within the Asser research project ‘Doing Business Right’, especially for the blog;
  • Assistance in day-to-day maintenance of social media accounts linked to the ‘Doing Business Right’ project;
  • Assistance in organizing upcoming events (workshops, lectures);
  • Assist in legal research and analysis in the frame of academic publications.

Interested candidates should have:

  • Demonstrated interest in legal issues lying at the intersection of transnational business, human rights, private international law, and global value chains regulation. An interest in transnational law and private regulations are an advantage;
  • Solid academic and non-academic writing skills, research and analytical skills;
  • A master degree in EU law, private or public international law or international relations;
  • Excellent command of written and spoken English, preferably at a native speaker level;
  • Experience with managing websites and social media communication is of an advantage.

What we offer:

  • A stipend, based on the level of education completed;
  • Exposure to the academic activities of the research strand ‘Advancing public interests in international and European law’, and the T.M.C Asser Instituut, a leading research centre in International and European law;
  • An inspiring, dynamic and multicultural working environment.


Interested candidates should apply by email, sending a motivation letter and CV in English, a sample of academic writing (master’s thesis or paper from a course relevant to the topics of the research project ‘Doing Business Right’) to both A.Duval@asser.nl and E.Partiti@asser.nl.


Deadline for application is 10 August 2018, 12.00 PM CET.


Please note: We cannot offer assistance in obtaining residence and work permits for the duration of the internship.

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – May 2018 - By Abdurrahman Erol

Introduction

This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to contribute to this compilation via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.

Highlights

OECD Due Diligence Guidance released

On 31 May, the OECD published “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct”. Issued after a multi-stakeholder process with OECD and non-OECD countries and representatives from business, trade unions and civil society, the guidance provides practical knowledge to businesses on due diligence recommendations and related provisions of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The guidance also aims at aligning different approaches of governments and stakeholders to due diligence for responsible business conduct by promoting a common understanding.More...

New Policy Brief - The Case for a Court of Arbitration for Business and Human Rights - By Antoine Duval & Catherine Dunmore

Two members of the Doing Business Right team, Antoine Duval and Catherine Dunmore have just published a policy brief feeding into the current debates on the use (and usefulness) of arbitration in the business and human rights context. More precisely, the brief makes the case for the creation of a single Court of Arbitration for Business and Human Rights. 

Here is the abstract: 

This policy brief makes the case for a single Court of Arbitration for Business and Human Rights (CABHR). It first highlights the challenges faced by victims of human rights violations caused or directly linked to the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) in accessing effective remedy. It then discusses the opportunities and challenges in using arbitration to provide a remedy in the business and human rights context. If arbitration is to be used, we argue that it should be in the framework of a single CABHR, which could draw some inspiration from the structure and operation of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The policy brief concludes by highlighting four core issues which stakeholders should focus on in the process of setting up a CABHR.

You can download the paper for free on SSRN.