26 March 2024

New U.S. Government National Action Plan Promotes Remedy for Corporate Harms: Implementation Will Be Key

Given the outsized role of the U.S. in corporate activity around the world, it’s important for the U.S. to also play an outsized role in promoting responsible business conduct. Whenever activities financed by U.S. money – whether through private companies, international institutions like the World Bank, or through U.S. agencies – cause negative environmental and human rights impacts, there must be accountability and remedy for those harms.

Recognizing the need for U.S. leadership, the new U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct (NAP) includes commitments from various government agencies to promote responsible business conduct. Accountability Counsel, along with Inclusive Development International,  submitted recommendations for the NAP, and we are happy to see several of our recommendations addressed:

U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines

The NAP responds to years of civil society advocacy to add tools to the NCP that incentivize companies to come to the negotiation table with affected communities and workers and address the inherent power imbalances between powerful companies and communities trying to raise their voices. This includes commitments to lift some confidentiality restrictions, provide recommendations to address harm even in cases where there is not an agreement or the company won’t participate, and develop reprisal protocols to ensure that communities feel and are safe to engage in the process.

U.S. Export-Import Bank

EXIM, the U.S. government’s export credit agency, has committed to engaging with other export credit agencies on remedy procedures and a public consultation on strengthening project grievance mechanisms. These commitments recognize what the U.N. Human Rights Council recognized in 2018 – export credit agencies need to do more to ensure access to remedy. Given EXIM’s increasing support of risky projects – including fossil fuel infrastructure – this commitment should result in an independent accountability mechanism for EXIM to address concerns about its financing.

Treasury Department

The Treasury department committed to advocating for effective remedy systems at multilateral development banks (MDBs) and supporting MDBs adopting responsible exit principles. This is critical. We have seen countless times in our support of communities seeking justice for harm from MDB projects that MDBs rarely provide meaningful remedy, and when they do, it is only after communities themselves demand it.  MDBs mount particular resistance to remediating harm when they are no longer financially involved in the project. While not contained in the NAP, these efforts to ensure that remedy is provided should also be extended to U.S. agencies, like the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.

Implementation is Key and Just the Beginning

While the NAP does not incorporate all of Accountability Counsel’s recommendations, it is a good start to ensuring that the U.S. is a responsible actor. Of course, this is only the case if the U.S. government implements its NAP. After the issuance of the 2016 NAP, which happened towards at the end of the Obama administration, little information was published on the implementation of the commitments. We expect more transparency and reporting on progress this time. New policies mentioned in the NAP should be developed through robust public consultation.

Additionally, the NAP should be the floor and not the ceiling of U.S. efforts to promote responsible business conduct. More should be done to promote responsible business conduct inside the U.S. – the NAP only addresses conduct abroad. Also, most of the NAP commitments focus on the actions of the executive branch. Congress should also promote responsible business conduct, including through the development of mandatory due diligence legislation that includes grievance mechanisms and other avenues for communities to seek justice for the violation of business and human rights standards.

We look forward to working with the U.S. government to ensure the robust implementation of the NAP commitments and the protection of communities around the world.