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Human rights is the business of businesses also

Human rights is the business of businesses also
International human rights instruments have traditionally held states accountable for the protection of human rights. However, as businesses continue to grow in power and influence, they are increasingly being recognized as responsible for respecting human rights. This is due to the acknowledgment of the negative impacts that businesses can have on human rights, such as environmental degradation and labor violations. As a result, businesses are now expected to prevent human rights abuses and provide remedies for any harm caused. This is reflected in global initiatives, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), adopted through Resolution 17/4 on June 16, 2011, are rooted in the recognition of both the obligation of the state and the responsibilities of the business sector to respect, protect, and provide remedies for human rights violations. The UNGPs provide essential principles for both the state and the business sector to ensure the protection of and respect for human rights while conducting and regulating business activities. These principles are applicable to all states and business enterprises, irrespective of their size, sector, location, ownership, or structure, including transitional ones. The United Nations (UN) has called upon all nations to create, implement, and update national action plans (NAP) on business and human rights, as part of their duty to disseminate and apply the UNGPs. A number of states in South Asia have started the process already. Pakistan was the first country to adopt BHR NAP in December 2021, whereas India released the National Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct in 2019 and made public the zero draft of the BHR NAP in March 2020. The UN is involved in providing technical assistance and building capacity of the states and stakeholders to promote business and human rights with the UN South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights as one such initiative. The fourth edition of the forum, happening in Kathmandu on March 20-22, 2023, aims to bring attention to the workers fueling development in Asia and the role that States and businesses must play to protect and respect the workers' rights. This forum also plans to discuss and debate the ongoing challenges and opportunities for workers in the sub-region against the backdrop of structural inequalities and power dynamics that results in differential impacts on workers.

As a member-state of the UN, Nepal also has the obligation to enforce the UN business and human rights principles. In compliance with this obligation, the Government of Nepal has tasked the Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Social Security (MoLESS) with formulating a distinct action plan on business and human rights as part of its 5th National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) adopted in 2020.

The ministry has formed a taskforce for formulating a national action plan for business and human rights. The taskforce members include representatives of the Federation of Nepali Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) and trade union, which is commendable. Furthermore, prior to releasing a preliminary NAP for public consultation last month, the taskforce conducted a series of consultations with a wide range of stakeholders such as the business sector, journalists, human rights activists, civil society members, lawyers, indigenous peoples organizations, and consumer groups. However, given the novelty of the business and human rights discourse in Nepal, the consulted stakeholder groups were not well-equipped to provide nuanced or informed recommendations on the draft guidelines. Additionally, the two-week deadline imposed by the government for collecting input on the draft was insufficient, and no public outreach or information dissemination was conducted to elicit feedback. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon the government to uphold transparency and disclose a list of suggestions and recommendations received and deliberated upon during the plan's finalization. The priorities identified by the government in the draft action plan includes labor rights, right to the environment, rights of indigenous communities, consumer rights, rights of women and children, right to gender equality and non-discrimination. It is interesting to note that all these rights prioritized in the draft BHR NAP are guaranteed as fundamental rights in the Constitution of Nepal 2015, and there are legislative measures as well to implement these rights. Despite suggestions and recommendations received from the consultations with the stakeholder, the draft has failed to include digital rights such as right to privacy and data protection. With an ever-growing level of digitalization and datafication, it is important to bring the digital rights and ICT businesses into the discussion of BHR in Nepal. Adoption of the BHR NAP is only the first step and the beginning. Both the government and the business sector need to do a lot to ensure that principles transform into practice. Nepal has a poor track record of implementing its plans and policies, including the NHRAP itself: the fourth NHRAP had concluded without even having a single meeting of the high-level committee established to implement the plan. Thus, the government needs to show serious commitment and allocate adequate resources for the implementation of the BHR NAP. According to the representatives of the business sector, the current BHR NAP draft has failed to guide the business sector on their roles in ensuring human rights. The UNGPs clarify what is expected of business enterprises with regard to human rights and outline the process through which companies can identify their negative human rights impacts and demonstrate that their policies and procedures are adequate to address them. However, Nepal draft BHR NAP has failed to clarify this and missed the opportunity to integrate the important aspect of human rights due diligence, which is the core of the UNGPs. It is the obligation of the State to provide effective guidance to business enterprises on how to respect human rights throughout their operations. As the concept of BHR is new in Nepal, the government is also required to invest in raising awareness and building capacity of the businesses to integrate human rights into businesses. Investing in BHR not only facilitates ethical and sustainable business operations but also enhances the reputation and social acceptability of businesses. Furthermore, it can contribute to the broader developmental objectives of the country, such as promoting inclusive growth and social cohesion. Advocate Sigdel is the co-founder of Digital Rights Nepal, a civil society organization promoting digital rights