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29 Sep 2022

Galileo de Guzman Castillo, Focus on the Global South

Japan: Govt. new HRDD guidelines are small step but gap still to fill

"Japan’s Human Rights Due Diligence Guidelines: A Small Step Forward or a Monkey Wrench? " 29 September 2022

Last month, Japan publicly released the draft of the Guidelines on Respect for Human Rights in Responsible Supply Chains. [...] This development is being hailed as a significant step forward, since it is considered as the first HRDD national legislation in Asia as monitored by the World Benchmarking Alliance and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

Notwithstanding, a critical question is raised: How would these Guidelines be translated into appropriate laws and regulations and effectively implemented?


At first glance, these types of national legislation can be viewed as advancing corporate accountability as they can clarify what is expected from corporations across their supply chains. However, since they are only national in scope, they may be applied only to the operations of companies within the particular country. In addition, compliance to the Guidelines has been more about reducing management risks, improving brand image, and increasing corporate value, which are all seen as good for business, rather than as part of stronger regulations. Thus, the stated primary motivation is more for financial and strategic considerations—for firms to retain their competitiveness, ability to trade, and market access—rather than ensuring the primacy of human rights, environmental protection, and corporate accountability.


It is evident that Japan’s Guidelines only adhere to the core elements of the UNGPs; its framing being more in line with UNGPs where the primary responsibility to protect lies with states, while businesses have only a responsibility to respect. As such, the Guidelines merely take off from purely voluntary commitments as opposed to legally binding and stronger obligations, essentially veering away from stronger language on direct obligations by corporations.


In sum, the Guidelines on Human Rights and Due Diligence could help in the initiatives to universalize measures to protect human rights by clarifying obligations. However, more must be done, particularly in moving towards more mandatory due diligence mechanisms.