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The German Government has adopted the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights. For the first time, German companies’ responsibilities as regards upholding human rights are laid down in a fixed framework by stipulating homogeneous and verifiable global standards. The Action Plan pools the strengths of the various stakeholders from the state, business sector, civil society and trade unions, with the aim of improving the human rights situation along the supply and value chain in Germany and worldwide. The German Government expresses its clear expectation in the Action Plan: companies must carry out human rights due Diligence.
The German Government has based its definition of this due diligence closely on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were drawn up in a six-year research and consultation process headed by Professor John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights. These principles define the state’s human rights duties and corporate responsibility in the global value and supply chains and were unanimously adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011.
The objectives of the NAP are:
- to make the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights applicable in practice for all Players,
- to highlight duties and responsibilities of the state and business respectively,
- to guarantee policy coherence, and
- to ensure that German business remains sustainable and competitive.
In concrete terms, the Action Plan includes procedures for investigating human rights violations, measures and a mechanism to inspect adherence to human rights standards, transparent reporting and a complaints procedure.
It also defines the conditions by which companies can make use of the instruments of foreign trade and investment promotion. This means that such promotion is tied to compliance with human rights standards. In addition, it establishes a wide-ranging monitoring procedure. The Action Plan explicitly includes the option of legal measures against companies that do not accept the standards it lays down.
Evolution of the Action Plan
The National Action Plan was drawn up in various stages. Ten hearings with experts and three conferences were held. The process was coordinated by the Federal Foreign Office and launched there on 6 November 2014. During the first phase, topics in the UN principles that are of relevance to Germany were identified for further exploration. On the basis of the outcome of this discussion, an exchange then took place between the main stakeholders from the business sector, politics, civil society, associations and academia.