National Action Plan for Human Rights and Business: ‘Knowing and Showing’

The government expects businesses to take concrete action to respect human rights in their own operations and elsewhere in their production chains. In turn, the government, civil society organisations and other stakeholders have a responsibility to support such actions. This is laid down in the National Action Plan for Human Rights and Business that the cabinet has approved at the proposal of the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen.

‘It’s about knowing and showing,’ explained Minister Ploumen. ‘Businesses must know where there are risks of human rights violations and show what they are doing to minimise them. At the same time, businesses rightly expect the government to provide clear guidelines, a level playing field and national legislation that complies with international standards.’

The action plan is based on the internationally accepted principles on business and human rights formulated by Professor John Ruggie for the United Nations. Businesses are expected to be able to show that they respect human rights, for example by consulting with stakeholders or by publishing formal public reports both to account for their policies and to enter into a dialogue on them.

Where human rights are nevertheless violated, legal or other remedies must be in place to compensate the victims. Existing mechanisms such as the National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines on corporate social responsibility will be further strengthened and given greater prominence, and embassies will provide information more actively. Complaints procedures within businesses and a good dialogue between businesses and groups with neutral mediators will remain of great importance.

After the United Kingdom, the Netherlands is the second country in the world to adopt a national action plan of this kind. The government intends to make specific agreements with certain sectors in which the risk of human rights violations is high, for example with the textiles sector, where there are abuses in garment factories in countries such as Bangladesh, and with energy companies that buy coal from mines in Colombia, where there are problems with human rights and working conditions.

Businesses that supply goods or services to the government or request assistance to carry out international activities will be screened as to their compliance with these expectations.