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Objective: Protect human rights in global supply and value chains

Sewer in a factory.
Source:  © dpa

The Federal Government approved the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights on 21 December 2016. In this plan, the Federal Government for the first time anchors the responsibility German enterprises have for observing human rights in a clear framework. In it , the Federal Government formulates the clear expectation that businesses fulfil their obligation to exercise due diligence with regard to human rights and respect human rights in their supply and value chains. The objective is clearly defined: the Federal Government wants, through its National Action Plan, to help improve the human rights situation worldwide and give globalisation a social dimension in keeping with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. By establishing a reliable framework for German enterprises, it is working towards a level global playing field.

The Federal Government closely geared its definition of due diligence to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which were developed in the course of a six-year research and consultation process headed by the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Prof. John Ruggie. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles in 2011. The National Action Plan was developed to advance their implementation in Germany.

The United Nations Guiding Principles are based on existing human rights obligations such as the International Bill of Human Rights and the ILO's core labour standards. This international framework formulates requirements placed on policy makers and business, establishing the first generally accepted frame of reference for human rights obligations of states and the responsibility of businesses in global supply and value chains. The United Nations Guiding Principles are based on three pillars:

  • State duty to protect human rights
  • Corporate responsibility to respect human rights
  • Access to remedy for victims of human rights violations

Using these three pillars, the National Action Plan outlines the Federal Government's obligations under international law to protect human rights and describes the obligation enterprises have to practise human rights due diligence by reason of their corporate responsibility.

By pointing out the human rights responsibilities of the state and businesses and by formulating core elements of human rights due diligence, the National Action Plan provides guidance and impetus for implementing the UN Guiding Principles in business activities. The Federal Government expects all enterprises to establish the process of corporate due diligence as described in Chapter III of the National Action Plan, in a manner commensurate with their size, the sector in which they operate, and their position in supply and value chains. This applies especially when they operate in countries where the rule of law is inadequately enforced or not enforced at all. It does not affect a state's fundamental duty to guarantee the protection of human rights within its territory.

"The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights applies to all enterprises regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure. Nevertheless, the scale and complexity of the means through which enterprises meet that responsibility may vary according to these factors and with the severity of the enterprise’s adverse human rights impacts."

UN Guiding Principle 14

Enterprises are called upon to review their business operations and business relations, step by step, with regard to potential human rights risks and to take appropriate measures. Starting in 2018, the Federal Government will assess the level of implementation on the basis of random checks. Its aim is to have at least half of all enterprises based in Germany with more than 500 employees integrate the elements of human rights due diligence described in the National Action Plan into their business processes by the year 2020.