Japan should strengthen new business and human rights guidelines

Japan’s recently adopted guidelines on the responsible use of supply chains miss an opportunity to strengthen strict human rights requirements in the global business superpower.

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Responsible Respect for Human Rights Guidelines supply chainAs part of a global trend of increased government oversight of corporate human rights impacts, it could be a much-needed tool to address Japanese companies’ involvement in human rights abuses. Research published in January 2022 by the World Benchmarking Alliance and the Business and Human Rights Resource Center found a “significant gap” between Japanese companies’ written commitments to human rights and their actions to protect them. Since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have documented links between private and public companies in Japan and Myanmar’s military junta, which has killed more than 2,200 people and detained more than 15,000.

However, unless those guidelines are significantly strengthened, there is little reason for Japanese companies to change their ways. Human Rights Watch and Japanese civil society groups provided written comments on the draft guidelines, but the adopted guidelines largely ignored the recommendations.

Changes that need to be made include acknowledging that businesses have a responsibility to respect comprehensive human, labor and environmental rights, including viewing climate change as a fundamental threat to the rights of present and future generations. The guidance should also state that companies should respect their rights throughout the value chain, and should provide additional guidance on how companies should remedy damage.

The guidelines are non-binding and therefore unlikely to prompt Japanese companies to strengthen respect for rights. The Japanese government should announce a timetable for drafting and enacting binding legislation to enable victims to take legal action against companies suspected of human rights abuses. While voluntary guidelines help clarify companies’ responsibilities, recent history shows that many companies will only do what the law requires.

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