What Is the Significance of Developing a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights?

October 16, 2023
Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is actively implementing the “Business and Human Rights” project by the United Nations Development Programme, designed to strengthen the mechanisms for protecting the rights of citizens through the implementation of the “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”. A National Baseline Assessment on Business and Human Rights has already been conducted, and a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights is planned for future development.

Tatyana Zinovich, acting director at the Public Foundation of the “Legal Policy Research Centre” and a member of the expert group of the “Business and Human Rights” project, spoke about the degree of legal protection of Kazakh citizens in the field of entrepreneurial activity and drew attention to the key features and objectives of the process of developing a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

Tatyana Zinovich at the training on Human Rights Due Diligence for busniesses

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

– What kinds of human and citizen rights are most and least protected in business, in your opinion?

– In my opinion, all human rights within the entrepreneurial activity of Kazakhstan remain vulnerable. There are two key human rights problems in our country.

Firstly, the legislation in this field does not always meet international standards, as evidenced by numerous recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review and reporting procedures to the UN.

Secondly,  there is a discrepancy between the legislation and its actual application in practice, which leads to legal uncertainty and diminishes citizens’ trust in the legal system. That is why, to ensure the stability of the legal order, it is important to constantly update and improve the legislation, as well as effectively apply it in practice.

It is important to note that these issues are relevant for all groups of rights affected by entrepreneurial activity, be it labour rights, environmental rights, children's rights, the right to non-discrimination, the right to association and peaceful assembly, and others.

Kazakhstan ratified a number of Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on labour relations. To what extent are the provisions of these conventions applied in practice?

– At the moment, Kazakhstan has ratified 24 Conventions of the International Labour Organization. 

Of course, not all of them have a clear connection with the current legislation and law enforcement practice. The following steps can be taken to strengthen the practical implementation of the norms of the ILO Conventions in Kazakhstan:

  • It is necessary to actively work on the adaptation and implementation of the provisions of the Conventions in the national laws to ensure their effective application in practice;

  • It is important to ensure that officials, judges, workers, entrepreneurs and union representatives are adequately informed and trained about the ILO conventions, so they can better understand and apply their provisions;

  • The system of control and supervision over compliance with the norms of the Conventions must be strengthened to detect and respond to violations;

  • Ensuring effective interaction with employers and union representatives is important to create a more consistent and fair regulation of labour relations.

What is the National Plan on Business and Human Rights for? What is it exactly?

– A National Plan on Business and Human Rights is a strategic document developed by the government or competent authorities with the participation of all stakeholders. The stakeholders include the state itself, as well as business and civil society. It performs a number of important functions related to ensuring sustainable and responsible business, protecting human rights, maintaining fairness and creating a favourable business environment.

The main purpose of this document is to guarantee that human rights are respected and protected in business. It includes the rights of workers, the rights of the local population and the rights of society as a whole. The National Plan encourages companies and entrepreneurs to implement responsible business standards, human rights due diligence and other mechanisms that promote ethical business behaviour and consider the impact of their activities on human rights and the environment. The plan also promotes business development that considers social and environmental factors, contributes to sustainable development and job creation, and supports the local community.

The document begins with an analysis of the current situation in business and human rights. It allows us to identify strengths and weaknesses and determine the most critical areas that need attention. Based on the analysis, goals and an action plan are developed to achieve these goals. These activities may include changes in legislation, educational programs, partnerships with business and civil society, etc. Once the National Plan has been put into practice, it is important to monitor and evaluate its level of implementation. It allows us to determine the effectiveness of the measures taken and, if necessary, correct further actions.

It is important to emphasize that the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights is a necessary tool for encouraging sustainable and responsible business development that respects and protects human rights and promotes the development of harmonious relations between business, society and the state.

How do you see its implementation in our country? Which government agencies should be involved?

– It is a complex question, one that should be answered by a whole group of stakeholders. It requires basic research and shared experience to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights for Kazakhstan. I can say that such a plan should comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and include the following sections:

  • State obligations to respect human rights;

  • Corporate responsibility of business

  • Legal remedies

As for the second part of your question, all key ministries and departments should take part in developing a National Plan. I am not going to list them all, but I will say that the development process should include the following areas of activity:

  • Development of economic policy and stimulation of business development;

  • Legislation, law enforcement and respect for human rights;

  • Matters of labour rights and working conditions;

  • Compliance with law and order;

  • Attracting investments and developing business in the country;

  • Protection and promotion of human rights;

  • Sustainable development, including social responsibility of business;

  • Environment and consideration of environmental aspects in business practices.

Depending on the specific needs and goals of the plan, other government agencies may also be involved. However, I would like to emphasise that it is important that these government agencies work in partnership with other stakeholders, such as non-government organisations; trade unions; business associations and the academic community. It will allow for a more balanced and objective approach to plan development.

– Which institutions and civil society organisations should be involved in the development and implementation of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and to what extent?

– When developing and implementing a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights it is essential to ensure the broad participation and involvement of civil society institutions and organizations. Such participation contributes to a balanced and objective approach to the creation of the strategic document and allows it to take into account the diverse interests and needs of all stakeholders.

Non-government organisations (NGOs) focused on human rights should be involved in the discussion and development. These organisations play a key role in the protection and promotion of human rights. They can provide expertise and information on the human rights situation in the country, as well as suggest measures to incorporate human rights in business practice.

Involvement of unions is imperative as they represent the interests of workers and play a key role in ensuring fair working conditions, protecting labour rights and promoting the social responsibility of business.

Representatives of business associations can provide expert knowledge on business practices and express the interests of the business community. It helps create a more practical and realistic plan that takes into account the needs and abilities of businesses.

Human rights and business researchers and experts can contribute by providing up-to-date data and analysis on which to build the National Plan.

In addition, the involvement of local residents and civil society is important so that local features and needs are taken into account, and a better understanding of the impact of business on the local community is ensured.

In your opinion, which recommendations of the experts based on the results of the National Baseline Assessment are essential to develop a National Plan?

– Above all, the wide involvement of all stakeholders must be ensured. 

In addition, it is recommended that the plan follow international standards, such as the requirements of the International Labour Organization, as well as other international agreements that Kazakhstan is required to comply with.

It is important to envisage a system for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the National Plan to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness.

It is recommended to provide transparency in the plan development process, including access to information and public participation, so as to increase its legitimacy and credibility.

Dialogue and cooperation with employers, union representatives and other social partners must be established to create coordinated solutions in labour relations and the social responsibility of business.

The National Plan must also take into account local conditions and needs to be most effective and realistic.

* The interview is originally published at astanatimes.com