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Responding department: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor - Dept. of State

Response to the UN Working Group surveys on implementation of the Guiding Principles

Has your government taken any initiatives to reduce companies’ negative impacts on human rights that you consider particularly successful?

Yes, one example is the U.S. government’s participation in multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). Multi-stakeholder initiatives are voluntary initiatives by which stakeholders, including companies, governments, and civil society; work together to address challenges of collective concern that no one actor may be able to solve on its own. Examples of MSIs that the U.S. government participates in are the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (Voluntary Principles) Initiative, The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC), and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

For example, extractive industry companies operate in some of the most challenging and conflict-affected environments in the world. The Voluntary Principles Initiative is a MSI that promotes implementation of a set of principles that guide oil, gas, and mining companies on providing security for their operations in a manner that respects human rights. For example, the principles guide companies in conducting a comprehensive human rights risk assessment in their engagement with public and private security providers to help ensure human rights are respected in the protection of company facilities and premises. The U.S. government has devoted significant time and energy towards strengthening outreach to encourage other governments to join the Voluntary Principles Initiative, and to encourage companies to implement the principles. It has devoted over $1 million in programmatic funds to support this objective. Corporate participants in the Voluntary Principles Initiative commit to implement the principles in their business practices. In order to continue to enhance implementation of the principles, some company participants are increasing their focus on accountability. Over the last few years, 15 Voluntary Principles Initiative companies have been piloting ways of verifying their commitments to the Initiative. Since that time, Voluntary Principles participants have developed and are implementing verification frameworks to build upon this process. Verification processes will help companies maintain high standards while they do business in some of the most challenging areas of the world, as well as enhance transparency.

The ICoC is the product of a multi-stakeholder process aimed at raising the standards of private security companies (PSCs) operating in complex environments around the world. The ICoC sets forth principles on issues including the use of force, detention, slavery and forced labour. The ICoC has been signed by over 600 PSCs, including many that contract with the U.S. government in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. PSCs that sign the ICoC affirm that they have a responsibility to respect the human rights of all those affected by their business activities; commit to establish and demonstrate internal processes to meet the requirements of the ICoC’s principles and the standards derived from the ICoC; and commit to submit to and become certified by ongoing independent monitoring by the soon-to-be-established ICoC oversight mechanism. The U.S. government has engaged in and supported this process from the beginning, and has a representative on the ICoC Association Board of Directors.

The EITI provides an international standard by which countries reconcile and publish revenues paid by extractive companies and revenues received by governments for extractive activities. The process is managed in each country by a multi-stakeholder group of government, civil society, and company representatives. In May 2013, the international EITI Board adopted extensive revisions to the EITI rules to make them more effective in promoting transparency and accountability in the extractives sector. The updated rules will help ensure EITI data is comprehensive, reliable, and usable by citizens in holding their governments accountable. The U.S. government has been a strong supporter of EITI since its founding over 10 years ago, recognizing that transparency is a critical component of sound governance in countries’ oil and other extractive sectors. President Obama’s September 2011 announcement that the U.S. government would not only support, but also implement the EITI underscored the Administration’s belief that this initiative benefits countries in all regions and all levels of development. A State Department representative serves as an Alternate on the international EITI Board and the State Department supports the U.S. Department of the Interior in implementing the EITI domestically. Implementing EITI is one of the commitments made by the U.S. government in its Open Government Partnership (OGP) national action plan.

Please see the U.S. Government Approach to Business and Human Rights for more examples of relevant initiatives: [link]

What department or departments have significant responsibility for business and human rights within your government?

On international issues, the U.S. Department of State leads U.S. government policy on business and human rights issues. Domestically, multiple U.S. government agencies have significant responsibility for business and human rights issues.

What are the top 5 priority issues that your government has taken steps to address since June 2011?

On September 24, 2014, President Obama announced the development of a U.S. National Action Plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas. Our top priority issues will be determined through the development of the U.S. National Action Plan.

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?

On September 24th, 2014, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, President Obama announced the development of a U.S. National Action Plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas.

The NAP will address ways in which the U.S. government can promote, encourage, and enforce established norms of responsible business conduct with respect to human rights, labour rights, anti-corruption, and transparency.

In doing so, the National Action Plan will: help set clear, consistent, and predictable expectations for U.S. firms in their global operations; facilitate internal U.S. government communication and coordination; strengthen the trust and communication among stakeholders; identify USG commitments to assist in creating a rights-respecting enabling environment for businesses operating abroad; and further promote responsible investment and responsible business conduct.

In developing the National Action Plan we will take on a whole of government approach and will involve many U.S. agencies. Since the President’s announcement, the White House has convened various U.S. government agencies to begin discussing the contours of and process for fulfilling this commitment.

Access to remedy: What steps have been taken to develop new judicial or administrative remedies or to reduce barriers to existing remedies for victims?

Response to this question is predicated on the ongoing development of the U.S. 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?

Response to this question is predicated on the ongoing development of the U.S. National Action Plan.

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?

Response to this question is predicated on the ongoing development of the U.S. National Action Plan.

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 U.S. government seeks to continue to collaborate with governments, civil society, and business to improve business impacts on human rights and to further dissemination and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We encourage others to join us as we rededicate our energy to continued participation in constructive, multi-stakeholder processes to further the Guiding Principles, including through our NAP process and the expert consultation process on domestic remedies for gross human rights abuses led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.