Responding department: Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Has your government taken any initiatives to reduce companies’ negative impacts on human rights that you consider particularly successful?
Norway introduced one of the first CSR white papers (Report to the Parliament No 10, 2008-2009) in which the government inter alia expressed expectations that companies respect human rights in all their activities, including childrens, womens and indigenous peoples rights as formulated in international conventions, and that companies base their activities on the ILO core conventions. Two proposed measures in the white paper have been implemented that carry great potential to reduce companies’ negative impacts on human rights.
One has been strengthening the Norwegian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The NCP was reformed and made more independent of the Government in 2011 with an independent expert panel and a dedicated secretariat of two full time positions as well as a dedicated budget from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The NCP signed up for a voluntary peer review in the OECD system in 2012 and the report released in January 2014 by the review team highlighted that the reform of the NCP seemed to have been successful in terms of increasing the NCP’s efficiency and legitimacy especially internationally and amongst most key stakeholders in Norway. Providing the NCP with dedicated resources was singled out as key. Some questions have also been raised pertaining to the NCP’s institutional arrangement. To clarify certain issues around the NCP as an in substance independent public body, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced a more specific mandate to the NCP in 2014, reflecting the OECD Guidelines’ Procedural Guidance and in addition, amongst other issues, the mandate specifies that the NCP shall strive to fulfil the UNGP’s effectiveness criteria for non-judicial grievance mechanisms (UNGP 31). Currently the NCP, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is undertaking a project to assist companies in starting or improving human rights due diligence processes. The project builds on inspiration from a Dutch initiative in 2013/2014. NCP website: [link]. Peer Review report: [link]
Another measure discussed in the above-mentioned white paper, with potential to increase awareness amongst and mapping of human rights impact by companies, is the introduction of mandatory annual reporting on CSR issues companies subject to the Norwegian Accounting Act §3.3, including on human rights considerations (amendment to the Norwegian Accounting Act §3.3 in force from June 2013).
The current government has recently expressed expectations to all companies that they assume responsibility for people, societies and environment that are affected by their activities, including related to four key areas: climate and environment, human rights, labour rights and anti-corruption (White Paper/Report to the Parliament No. 27, 2013-2014). This white paper mainly focuses on the state-owned enterprises (the states’ direct ownership) and expresses expectations that companies with state shareholdings respect fundamental human rights as expressed in international conventions, in all their activities and that the enterprises follow-up on such issues in relation to their suppliers and business relationships, as well as integrate relevant conditions related to human rights in all their activities and that they conduct relevant due diligence in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles.
To increase policy coherence and to further disseminate the Guidelines and engage enterprises and other key stakeholders, the Government has decided to develop a National Action Plan for the UN Guiding Principles.
What department or departments have significant responsibility for business and human rights within your government?
Several ministries have significant responsibility for business and human rights. Department for Economic Affairs and Development, Section for Economic and Commercial Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for international CSR issues (UN Global Compact, UNGPs, OECD MNE GL etc) including but not limited to business and human rights. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs thus coordinates development of the above-mentioned National Action Plan (NAP). Since human rights and business are to a certain extent relevant for virtually all Ministries, an interdepartmental group has been established for formal and informal consultations on the NAP. All relevant ministries are to varying degrees involved, including most notably the Ministry of Trade and Fishery and the Ministry of Finance.
Has your government undertaken new business & human rights initiatives or strengthened existing ones since the endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles in June 2011?
What are the top 5 priority issues that your government has taken steps to address since June 2011?
Types of company impacts prioritised:
- Forced labour & trafficking
- Other core labour rights
- Land rights and displacement
- Access to water
- Operations in conflict zones
- Tax avoidance
- Women's rights
- Impacts on children
- Indigenous groups
- Migrant workers
1. Company reporting requirements on CSR including human rights introduced from June 2013 by amendment of the Norwegian Accounting Act §3.3
2. The Norwegian Parliament in December 2013 unanimously passed a law introducing country-by-country reporting for mining and forestry industries.
3. The Government expressed clear expectations on companies with direct state ownership to respect human rights and conduct relevant human rights due diligence in accordance with the UNGPs in its report to the Parliament No. 27, 2013-2014. For further details, see Section 1. The report is to be available in English in December 2014.
4. The Government released a white paper (report to the Parliament No. 10, 2014-2015) on 12 December 2014 on human rights as a tool in foreign and development policy, including a chapter on business and human rights explaining the UNGPs and expressing expectations that companies respect human rights in accordance with the UNGPs.
5. The Norwegian Export Credit Guarantee Agency has strengthened its policy on environmental and social conditions, and refers inter alia to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
6. The Norwegian Agency for Public Management and Government is currently developing templates and guidance to facilitate respect for human rights in public procurement.
7. See also strengthening of the Norwegian NCP in Section 1.
Has your government adopted a National Action Plan on business and human rights as encouraged by the UN Human Rights Council and UN Working Group on business & human rights, or will it do so in the future?
The Government has decided to develop a National Action Plan, scheduled to be launched early 2015. The NAP will be made public upon approval by the Government.
If your government has adopted a National Action Plan or is planning on adopting one, please highlight whether it makes reference to international human rights standards and whether it was developed in consultation with affected stakeholders.
The National Action Plan is currently being developed.
Our primary goal with the Action Plan is increased policy coherence. To this end, this will be the entire Government’s Action Plan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which coordinates the process, has established an interdepartmental group for all relevant Ministries for informal and formal consultations. We view the National Action Plan as a start towards more concerted government efforts. Furthermore we aim to give clear expectations to business.
Several series of consultations, both multi-stakeholder and separate meetings with business, civil society and indigenous peoples’ representatives, have proven invaluable. Hopefully, the thorough and inclusive process will support effective implementation once proposed policy measures shall be turned into practice. We will continue engaging with all key stakeholders on the implementation.
Access to remedy: What steps have been taken to develop new judicial or administrative remedies or to reduce barriers to existing remedies for victims?
Please refer to our upcoming National Action Plan.
Access to remedy: What steps have been taken to develop new non-judicial remedies, improve existing mechanisms, and reduce barriers for victims?
Please see Section 1.
Access to remedy: For companies headquartered in your country or their subsidiaries, has your government taken steps to enhance accountability for human rights impacts abroad?
Please see Section 1.
Which factors impede your government’s ability to take action on business and human rights?
- Other: Lack of coherence between international instruments (UN, OECD, World Bank, Development Banks, etc.)
- Lack of resources for enforcement, monitoring and prosecution
- Political limitations imposed by foreign governments or multilaterla institutions
- Lack of understanding or awareness of business & human rights in government
- Challenges of coordinating across government departments
Not a factor:
- Opposition or lack of consensus within government
- Opposition by economic interest groups or business associations
- Other opposition by influential people or groups outside government
- Concern about deterring foreign investment
What, if any, form of support would your government welcome the most to help advance its actions to improve companies’ impacts on human rights?
The UN Guiding Principles have become the authoritative tool for dealing with human rights abuses involving business in our globalized economy. They have been picked up by business, particularly larger enterprises. Their usefulness are also demonstrated through uptake of the Principles by international institutions like the OECD, ASEAN, African Union, International Finance Corporation etc.
However, the challenges that the Principles address are complex and differ from State to State, and thus from company to company. There are difficult and partly different issues to deal with in all states, and different and often limited resources for implementation. The UN Guiding Principles argue for a smart mix of law, effective regulation and other incentives. We view the National Action Plans is a key tool to map existing rules and policies and identify room for improvement in this regard. On the international level, increased coherence between international instruments (UN, World Bank, Development Banks, OECD etc) would be to the benefit of both states and business in terms of harmonizing expectations and levelling the playing field.
Also, we should not overlook that a key challenge remaining is to mainstream human rights due diligence as an integral part of business practice processes. We would welcome capacity building amongst States and other key stakeholders on how to reach out to and motivate business enterprises still not familiar with the Principles, through National Action Plans or other policy measures.