UK publishes updated Business and Human Rights Action Plan

The UK’s updated BHR action plan was published on 12 May, following a written ministerial statement in Parliament.

Visible, high-level political endorsement sends a powerful signal to business so it’s a pity that there’s no Ministerial Foreword included in the update, but despite this the plan clearly reasserts the UNGPs and the government’s expectation that businesses adopt them.

When it comes to detail, much of the text is identical to the original plan published in September 2013. It’s largely descriptive and thin on new commitments, but there are a few notable statements.

There’s a commitment to continuing to ensure that UK Government procurement rules allow for human-rights related matters to be reflected in the procurement of public goods, works and services.

Work to support human rights defenders working on issues related to business and human rights, (in line with EU Guidelines on human rights defenders) through embassies and high commissions is to be continued.

The UK will “support the EU commitment to consider the possible human rights impacts of free trade agreements, including where these include investment protection provisions, and take appropriate steps including through the incorporation of human rights clauses as appropriate”.

As part of international advocacy on the UNGPs (which presumably could be interpreted as applying to trade delegations too?), diplomatic missions are to be instructed “…to raise with local authorities our concerns in situations where companies have problems implementing their human rights responsibilities because local law is incompatible with international human rights law.”

The biggest gap in the plan is on remedy; only three commitments and none of them new or substantive. The plan offers very little to people who have been denied justice after being harmed by UK companies.

While the lack of ambition in many areas is disappointing, the publication of the updated plan demonstrates that the UK remains engaged with the business and human rights agenda.

We now need other States to publish plans that raise the bar, so when it comes to the next update the UK will be under pressure to step up and match international efforts.