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.

National Human Rights Institutions as Gateways to Remedy under the UNGPs: Introduction - 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.


Human rights require meaningful enforcement mechanisms. This idea stands at the foundation of the United Nations’ approach to handling corporate human rights abuses.[1] An individual that has suffered a human rights harm must freely enjoy access to justice in order to seek the reparation of that harm. The third pillar of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) focuses exclusively on this need to secure access to effective remedy for victims. The remedial process described therein comprises both the procedural aspects of obtaining a remedy for an adverse human rights impact and the substantive outcome of those procedures. This process demands the involvement of all actors including governments, corporations and civil society.

The commentary to Principle 27 of the UNGPs notes the particularly important role that national human rights institutions (NHRI) play in providing access to effective remedy. In his 2008 Report, the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights referred to them as the ‘lynchpins’ of his framework’s entire system of grievance mechanisms. The reasons justifying this optimistic outlook are not difficult to uncover. NHRIs are state-based but independent institutions that have a constitutional or legislative mandate to protect and promote human rights.[2] They are focal points of expertise on human rights and they enjoy a presumption of neutrality and objectivity. Their unique positioning at the crossroads between governments, corporations and civil society further enables them to behave as crucial links between these actors. In terms of providing access to remedy, the 2010 Edinburgh Declaration envisions the participation of NHRIs as either direct or indirect. Direct participation refers to the handling of complaints relating to business and human rights cases. An NHRI may for instance assume the role of an investigator, mediator or conciliator. Indirect participation on the other hand refers to promoting education, monitoring, capacity-building, advising and issuing recommendations inter alia. In this sense, the NHRI becomes a centre for expertise on human rights and a hub for the exchange of information. The question nevertheless remains if and to what degree NHRIs have in practice assumed this role in the context of business and human rights.

This five-part series looks at the extent to which the the Access to Remedy Pillar of the UNGPs has been fulfilled through the daily practice of the Dutch, South African, Romanian, Australian and Indian NHRIs. Ultimately, this series hopes to unravel whether the chosen NHRIs have assumed the role envisioned for them under the Principles and the differing ways in which they may have done so.


[1] Jonathan Drimmer and Lisa J Laplante, ‘The Third Pillar: Remedies, Reparations, and the Ruggie Principles’ in Jena Martin and Karen E Bravo (eds), The Business and Human Rights Landscape: Moving Forward, Looking Back (CUP 2016) 318 and op. cit. 12.

[2] UNDP and UN OHCHR, UNDP-OHCHR Toolkit for Collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions (2010) 2.


Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – November 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 and an intern with the Doing Business Right project. 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

CHRB

On 12 November 2018, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark released the results of its 2018 ranking of 101 companies operating in the apparel, agricultural products and extractives industries. The results show that implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in these sectors is still weak (following the 2017 results) with the average overall score for 2018 being 27% (an increase of 9 percentage points from last year), demonstrating a lack of respect for human rights. The Report identifies that due diligence is a key weakness of the companies that were reviewed, with 40% of companies scoring no points with respect to the due diligence indicator. Other issues identified were the lack of a strong commitment to ensuring that there are ‘living wages’ paid to those working in company operations and supply chains and the failure to meet expectations with respect to preventing child labour in supply chains. Read the 2018 Key Findings Report here.

Australian MSA passes both houses of Parliament

On 29 November 2018, the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) passed both houses of the Australian Parliament. Once enacted, the Act will require Australian entities and entities carrying on a business in Australia that have a consolidated revenue of at least $100 million to prepare a Modern Slavery Statement covering mandatory criteria. Criteria that such entities will have to report on include the risks of modern slavery practices in their operations and supply chains and the actions they take to assess and address those risks, including due diligence and remediation processes. It is likely that the Act will come into effect on 1 January 2019 and accordingly the first Modern Slavery Statements will be due by 1 January 2021. More...

The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Summary of the Fourth Session of the Working Group - 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.


From 15 to 19 October 2018, the fourth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights took place in Geneva. 92 UN States participated in the session along with a range of stakeholders, including intergovernmental organisations, business organisations, special procedures of the Human Rights Council and national human rights institutions. The focus of the session was on the zero draft of the proposed binding business and human rights treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’).

This blog sets out the key views and suggestions made by those in attendance with respect to the treaty during the session.[1] Issues and areas of concern raised at the session generally aligned with the critiques raised by commentators on the first draft of the treaty (which are set out in a previous blog). 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...



Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...



International Arbitration of Business and Human Rights Disputes: Part 2 - Advantages and challenges - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.

Background

At the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights from 27-29 November 2017 in Geneva, discussions focused on the central theme of Realizing Access to Effective Remedy. With an increasing focus on this third pillar of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a working group of international law, human rights and conflict management specialists (Claes Cronstedt, Jan Eijsbouts, Adrienne Margolis, Steven Ratner, Martijn Scheltema and Robert C. Thompson) has spent several years exploring the use of arbitration to resolve business and human rights disputes. This culminated in the publication on 13 February 2017 of a proposal for International Business and Human Rights Arbitration. On 17 August 2017, a follow-up Questions and Answers document was published by the working group to address the principal questions raised about the proposal during the three-year consultation with stakeholders. Now, a drafting team is being assembled, chaired by Bruno Simma, to prepare a set of rules designed specifically for international business and human rights arbitration (the Hague International Business and Human Rights Arbitration Rules) in consultation with a wide range of business and human rights stakeholders. Once drafted, the rules will be offered to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and other international arbitration institutions and could be used in arbitration proceedings managed by parties on an ad hoc basis.

Introduction

Part 1 of this three-part blog series gave an overview introduction to the proposal for international business and human rights arbitration. This Part 2 focuses on (1) the potential advantages of using international arbitration to resolve such disputes, as well as (2) the substantial challenges the proposal will face in practice. Part 3 will then provide a case study of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’s binding arbitration process. More...

International Arbitration of Business and Human Rights Disputes: Part 1 - Introducing the proposal - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.

Background

At the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights from 27-29 November 2017 in Geneva, discussions focused on the central theme of Realizing Access to Effective Remedy. With an increasing focus on this third pillar of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a working group of international law, human rights and conflict management specialists (Claes Cronstedt, Jan Eijsbouts, Adrienne Margolis, Steven Ratner, Martijn Scheltema and Robert C. Thompson) has spent several years exploring the use of arbitration to resolve business and human rights disputes. This culminated in the publication on 13 February 2017 of a proposal for International Business and Human Rights Arbitration. On 17 August 2017, a follow-up Questions and Answers document was published by the working group to address the principal questions raised about the proposal during the three-year consultation with stakeholders. Now, a drafting team is being assembled, chaired by Bruno Simma, to prepare a set of rules designed specifically for international business and human rights arbitration (the Hague International Business and Human Rights Arbitration Rules) in consultation with a wide range of business and human rights stakeholders. Once drafted, the rules will be offered to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and other international arbitration institutions and could be used in arbitration proceedings managed by parties on an ad hoc basis.

Introduction

Part 1 of this three-part blog series will give an overview introduction to the proposal for international business and human rights arbitration. It will discuss particularly (1) considerations for the drafters of new arbitration rules for business and human rights disputes. Part 2 will focus on the potential advantages of using international arbitration to resolve such disputes, as well as the substantial challenges the proposal will face in practice. Part 3 will then provide a case study of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’s binding arbitration process. More...


The EU Conflict Minerals Regulation: Challenges for Achieving Mineral Supply Chain Due Diligence - By Daniel Iglesias Márquez

Editor’s note: Daniel Iglesias Márquez is an external researcher in Business and Human Rights at the Tarragona Centre for Environmental Law Studies. He holds a PhD from the Rovira Virgili University in Tarragona (Spain). Other main fields of interest include International Environmental Law, International Criminal Law and European law.


The EU and its Member States have largely endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy and have committed to supporting their implementation.[i] The UNGPs state that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate. Companies are therefore expected to take proactive steps to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses within their global operations and to respond to human rights abuses when they do occur. This implies establishing due diligence processes to identify, prevent, mitigate and record potential and actual adverse human rights impacts.

Although the EU has not played a constructive role at the Geneva negotiations for a UN Treaty on business and human rights,[ii] some modest developments in the right direction have been made at the EU level to foster a culture of ‘doing business right’ among companies in certain industrial sectors. Put differently, the EU has adopted regulations and directives that implement the UNGPs.

Due diligence requirements are the most common way of ensuring that business behavior meets social expectations. An example of this is the new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation (Regulation),[iii] which requires EU companies to ensure the responsible sourcing of minerals and metals. This EU law has an extraterritorial reach since due diligence requirements must be exercised by a company throughout its international supply chain. However, the Regulation raises a number of challenges ahead that may affect its purpose and implementation. More...