Opinion: Pakistan’s National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights: A story of how governments, companies and nonprofits can create social change
On 28th September 2021, the Government of Pakistan announced the approval of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Pakistan is now the first country in South Asia to have a National Action Plan aimed at preventing human rights violations resulting from business activity.
In this guest blog, Asim Jaffry, Programme Lead of Fair Finance Pakistan, explores the growth in public-private partnerships across Asia and charts how the National Action Plan came into being.
President of Pakistan, Dr Arif Alvi, holding a copy of a discussion paper on a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights developed by the Oxfam project Finance 4 Development.
In recent years, the private sector has begun to have a transformational impact on people’s lives, where it seems to have broadened its primary purpose from just making profits to creating social value. In other words, profit and purpose are converging. We have seen global examples of the private sector shouldering responsibilities often in states which have failed to deliver public services to its people. In fact over the last decade, the United Nations and donor agencies are paying increasing attention to how private sector development can be leveraged to support poverty reduction and sustainable, equitable and inclusive social and economic growth.
Public-private partnerships are on the rise across Asia because they align incentives between companies, the social sector and government. In its latest report, ‘Public-Private Partnerships for Social Good,’ the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society highlights a growing trend of governments, social sector and the private sector coming together to address complex societal needs in Asia.
There is growing realization among Pakistani civil society, as in the wider international community, that the capacity of the private sector must be utilized systematically through formal public–private partnerships to attain societal good and other development goals.
By clearly inviting the support of the private sector and civil society, and exploring each other’s wealth of information and insight, one can nurture innovative anti-poverty action led by a broader spectrum of agents. Making use of social development thinking is essential to effective private sector development work that is responsible, inclusive, and delivers sustainable benefits to poor people.
UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
In June 2011, in line with states’ duty to protect human rights, including their duty to protect against human rights abuse by third parties, including business enterprises; the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) to address the adverse human rights impacts of business activity.
The UNGPs are the culmination of six years of consultations amongst States, business enterprises and civil society organizations, led by the then Special Representative to the UN Secretary General, Professor John Ruggie. The UNGPs provide a global standard for addressing human rights issues and preventing human rights abuses associated with business activity. They do not create any new international obligations on the State but stand to substantiate the ones that have already been ratified.
The UNGPs are based on what has come to be known as the “Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework”, which rests on three pillars:
- Pillar I: the legal duty of States to protect individuals from business-related adverse human rights impacts
- Pillar II: the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights
- Pillar III: the need to ensure effective access to remedies for victims, by States and businesses.
National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights in Pakistan
Over the years, Pakistan has ratified several key international human rights instruments which have been transposed into the domestic regime through a wide variety of federal and provincial laws and policies. These laws have, however been inadequate to address a wide range of human rights violations in economic activities, including in workplaces and in business operations. These include income and wealth inequality, wage inequality and gender disparity, inequality of opportunity, lack of due diligence mechanisms for occupational health and safety, poor working conditions and wages, unregistered workers, informal economy, and child and bonded labour. Effective implementation of policy instruments has remained a key challenge in the country, where Pakistan had lacked a comprehensive National Action Plan on Business & Human Rights compelling the government and the businesses to respect human rights throughout their business activities.
Seeing this untapped potential, in 2015 Oxfam Pakistan, initiated work on advocating for a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.
A series of over 90 dialogues and orientation sessions were held with key political leaders, senators and parliamentarians to gather political endorsement. Extensive advocacy led to over 10 endorsements from key federal ministers including Shireen Mazari, Minister for Human Rights while 75 legislators, many of them members of the National Assembly Committees on Human Rights, Commerce and Finance were on-board from the federal and provincial assemblies.
Consultations were also held with the private sector where 10 CEOs pledged to adopt gender sensitive policies and committed to implement their corporate responsibility under the pillar of respect of NAP Business and Human Rights. They also promised to revisit and improve their policies on Gender Pay Gap, Minimum Wage and Fairer Share. 55 members of the All Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industries signed a joint statement at the All Pakistan Chambers President Conference (APCPC) pledging to promote the Oxfam agenda of equality.
Approval of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights – A Win
The many years of campaigning finally came to fruition when on September 28, 2021, the Government of Pakistan announced the approval of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights; the first of its type in South Asia. Minister for Human Rights, Ms. Shireen Mazari an ardent supporter throughout tweeted about the development. The news article highlighting this impact can be read here.
The National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights lays out the necessary steps for businesses in Pakistan to adapt the three pillars of the National Action Plan at strategic, portfolio and transaction level. Indeed, the National Action Plan sets out how financial sectors must take on board these three pillars and respect the labour laws in the country, give employees equal opportunities and respect collective bargaining for their living wages. In the next phase of GSP+ status in Pakistan where a monitoring mechanism will be in place from 2023, there is a need that this Action Plan translates into the policies and practices for clear compliance on human rights treaties and best practices in the area of environment, social and labour laws.
Building on the legacy work of Oxfam’s Finance 4 Development project, Fair Finance Pakistan is committed to engaging banks and financial institutions to leverage learning for banks so that they conduct their business responsibly. The means making sure banks adopt the ESG criteria in line with the UNEP Principles for Responsible Banking, that they ensure universal financial access to women, that they adopt responsible lending practices and that they comply with the corporate governance code of conduct and with the State Bank’s Green Banking Guidelines in their business and operations at the strategic, portfolio and transaction level.