Government’s Role

Walking the Talk: 7 Points for the G7

Commentary, 10 June 2015

By Amol Mehra, Sara Blackwell, Legal and Policy Coordinator, ICAR

G7 leaders for the start of the Summit at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Number 10 / Flickr.

On June 8, the Group of 7 (G7) - which includes the major advanced economies of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—issued a declaration detailing various sets of commitments to address pressing social and economic issues, including climate change, women’s empowerment, and responsible supply chains.

This latter set of commitments covered a wide set of areas related to corporate accountability, including implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) , the development of industry-specific human rights due diligence standards, encouragement of companies to develop their own human rights due diligence processes, facilitation of social and environmental protections in public procurement, and access to remedies for business-related harms.

These are powerful words coming from powerful governments. Armed with these commitments from the home countries of the majority of the world’s corporations, the movement for business respect for human rights now stands poised and empowered to reshape the way business is done and to hold both public and private actors to account.

But declarations are far from actual protections and progress on the ground. The following 7 advancements are critical in translating the G7’s encouraging words into concrete action:

  1. Governments must understand that responsible business activity is an issue both inside and outside of the borders of the State. Human rights harms occur everywhere, from tomato fields in Florida to hotels in London. Similarly, supply chains do not start and end outside State borders. Companies source through myriad structures, with a web of subcontractors and agents that go well beyond geographical boundaries. In committing to responsible business conduct, governments must therefore look inward as well as outward in pushing robust reform.
  2. Although proactive measures such as conditioning contractor benefits on adherence to human rights standards are to be commended, access to remedy is an equally indispensable part of the equation. When impacts lead to abuse and where crimes are committed, there must be a commitment by States to prosecute companies and to make civil recourse available for victims. A well-functioning system enables and empowers those negatively impacted to vindicate their rights and their claims in courts. There remains a powerful need for governments to recognize this, both in ensuring that human rights are made real and in promoting the rule of law, particularly where it needs further development.
  3. National Action Plans for the implementation of business and human rights frameworks, including the UNGPs, must include concrete reforms that support the creation of binding rules on companies. Each of the G7 countries hosts high performing companies that are already engaging in respect for human rights. These companies need to be acknowledged, held up, and rewarded through regulation that captures this type of performance and distinguishes the scofflaws. National Action Plans are a promising means for promoting such binding rules, which could include procurement reforms and disclosure regimes, but should also include enhancing legal liabilities and creating causes of action for human rights harms in courts. As stated above, there are no rights without remedies, and closing the doors to remedy in effect denies any progress made by preventative measures.
  4. Where the G7’s declaration commits support for particular strands of work, there must be significant follow-through in the form of resource commitments to support the work of civil society actors and their participation in policy development. Communities are often unable to reach decision-makers in either the corporate or government sphere to help shape policies that are ultimately meant to protect them. This gap needs to be addressed by empowering the involvement of civil society representatives to participate meaningfully, including in multi-stakeholder initiatives.
  5. Human rights defenders in particular face significant risks to their lives and livelihoods on a daily basis as they work under the threat of extrajudicial killings, abductions, surveillance, and intimidation while defending human rights from harmful business activities. In promoting responsible business conduct, the G7 must take particular note of this valuable yet vulnerable group and prioritize the human rights of freedom of association, assembly, and peaceful protest, as well as the decriminalization of human rights defenders and their work.
  6. The negative impact of corruption on human rights, including social and economic rights, is undeniable. While bribery at the government level has been more prevalently documented in less developed economies, the G7 and other advanced economies have a key role to play in combatting corruption, including monitoring the practices of their companies in making investments abroad and utilizing the robust rule of law in their own jurisdictions to prosecute companies involved in corrupt practices.
  7. Finally, the G7 must now walk the talk and stick to these commitments on the global stage. While this group represents the world’s most advanced economies, business and human rights challenges exist everywhere. The G7 should continue to demonstrate strong leadership in this area by pushing other governments to stand up for human rights protections in a similar way. A key opportunity for doing so is the G20 Summit this coming November, where the G7 will join other leading governments in setting a global agenda for sustainable economic growth.

Ultimately, G7 governments are to be commended for strong and assertive leadership in bringing this important agenda to the fore. We need to now hold these commitments up as benchmarks and track progress against them. Words must be turned into action, and we must work together to push the G7 and governments worldwide to walk this encouraging talk.

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