In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These are a set of guidelines to address business impact on all human rights and apply to both governments and businesses. The UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) also clarify the respective duties and responsibilities for tackling human rights risks related to business activities. The three pillars of the UNGPs clarify the duty of governments to protect individuals from business-related human rights impacts, identifies the responsibilities of businesses to respect human rights and the necessary due diligence processes that companies should undertake, and stresses the joint responsibility of governments and business enterprises to ensure better access to remedy for victims, respectively.
Since their adoption, the Human Rights Council has called on all Member States to develop National Action Plans (NAPs) on business and human rights, in order to operationalize the UNGPs. A NAP is a policy document developed by governments to “protect against adverse human rights impacts by business enterprises in conformity with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” In February 2019, India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) released its Zero Draft of the NAP, which was the government’s first expression of its understanding and commitment towards tackling human rights risks related to business activities in India.
The 24-page document lists all the laws, policies, programmes and schemes that ostensibly protect human rights from corporate abuse. At best, the Zero Draft appears to be a mapping exercise, albeit devoid of any reference to the efficacy of the legal provisions and their dismal implementation on ground. This is most evident in the chapter devoted to access to remedy, which highlights the National Green Tribunals (NGT) and legal aid as provisions for remedy, but ignores how inept NGTs have been in regions where environmental violations are highest, or that legal aid per capita is less than a rupee.
In 2020, the Government is expected to release a revised First Draft of the NAP, which will then be further refined and adopted by end of 2020. In the meantime, the Government will constitute a Working Group of relevant Ministries and Departments, and undertake multi-stakeholder consultations. It will be upon civil society and trade unions to provide inputs and influence the NAP development process in a way that truly reflects the ground realities and addresses human rights violations by businesses and corporations. The year 2020 thus presents an opportunity to change the narrative from corporate social responsibility to responsible business conduct, which speaks to the most marginalized communities and the vulnerabilities of the environment and ecology.