Decree for a human rights seal for business

The guidelines outline promising mechanisms, but these are undermined, as companies are not obliged to commit.

Decree number 9571/2018 was published on 21 November, outlining National Guidelines for Business and Human Rights. The objective is to provide criteria for implementation, monitoring and reparation for Brazilian and multinational companies working in the country to establish guiding principles regarding human rights and their activities.

The pivotal points of the document include state and business responsibility, access to compensation mechanisms, as well as strategies for monitoring and evaluating the Guidelines. Although it represents some progress, the norm contains serious weaknesses that undermine its capacity to contribute to regulating business activity in terms of human rights.

“The decree says that implementation of the responsibilities set out in the Guidelines is voluntary which mitigates the obligations laid down in the national and international norms.” Explained Jefferson Nascimento, Consultant on the Conectas Development and Socio-environmental Rights Programme. “The voluntary nature of the decree is also evident in the way the ‘Business and Human Rights’ seal is awarded. It is aimed at companies that choose to implement the Guidelines and is given to companies who fulfil their human rights obligations, but there is no mention of a mechanism to revoke the seal should the company at some point fail to implement the Guidelines.” He added.

The Temer government has adopted measures that weaken mechanisms to protect socio-environmental rights from abuses resulting from business activity. This is the case, for example, of Order Number 1129/2017, of 13 October 2017, that proposes changes to the definition of slave labour and weakens control mechanisms. The voluntary nature of the application of the Guidelines by companies is in the same vein.

Civil society organisations who monitor this topic were taken by surprise by the adoption of the Guidelines. A preliminary version of the text of the decree had not been made available, nor was civil society given the opportunity to present contributions to its content, which reduces the chance of people and communities affected by business activities to participate in the process of building parameters.

The promising devices contained in the Guidelines – such as the inclusion of supply chains as a possible focal point of violations which companies are accountable for, priority in reparation and compensation for people in vulnerable conditions and mention of the need to improve transparency and participatory mechanisms – are overshadowed by the non-participatory nature of the development of the document and by the adoption of an optional approach to dealing with business obligations towards human rights.

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