Opinion

The Biden Administration Needs a Bold Human Rights Plan For Business

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

Last week, as President Biden’s European trip took center stage, his administration made a welcome but little-noticed commitment that the U.S. government will update what’s known as the National Action Plan (NAP) on responsible business conduct. Corporations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken observed, “have the capacity to help shape society and the environment, raising local wages, improving working conditions, building trust with communities, and operating sustainably.” To date, NAPs, including the one the outgoing Obama Administration put in place in 2016, haven’t made much of a difference. Now, the Biden team needs to produce a plan that will make meaningful new commitments to improve the lives of working people, in the U.S. and around the world with concrete benchmarks and timelines that measure progress.

Since 2014, 29 countries, most from Europe and North America, have produced NAPs. Another 14, mostly in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have agreed to do the same. The impetus for these plans was the adoption a decade ago of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The UNGPs asserted that governments and companies should pay greater attention to how business conduct affects human rights. The national action plans were meant to encourage governments to set new standards, for example, relating to their own procurement of goods and services, and to set measures and timelines for government and others to gauge progress.

Unfortunately, governments, including in the U.S., haven’t taken the NAPs seriously. They have filled their plans with summaries of what they already are doing, declining to make specific commitments of future action or to include concrete metrics to measure progress. All too often, commerce ministries, with business interests uppermost in mind, have wrestled successfully with more rights-oriented voices in foreign ministries to block a more ambitious approach.

Read the full Forbes article.
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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.