On 16 October 2020, the government of Japan launched the country’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights (BHR). This is the second NAP on BHR to emerge from Asia after Thailand. 

A process which began in 2016, Japan’s NAP was informed by discussions including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Japan’s NAP, running for a period of 5 years – from FY 2020 to FY 2025 – was preceded by a baseline assessment that was published in December 2018. 

Next steps involve the establishment of a liaison council to ensure implementation by the various ministries. There will also be discussions to support sustainable and effective implementation, including the development of indicators to measure progress and the design of NAP dissemination plans.  

Stakeholders expressed both praise for efforts made by the government and disappointment over insufficient levels of CSO engagement during the NAP consultation and drafting process. CSOs noted in an official statement that, “the NAP is still inadequate and must overcome a multitude of issues.” However, at least one observer from civil society noted that the final draft is an improvement from earlier versions, which seemingly gave insufficient space to civil society for follow-up or review. Further, this BHR expert also noted that with the NAP, there was a palatable softening of attitudes among business sector actors towards human rights issues. Investors in particular have been asking more and more for lectures on human rights, perhaps also reflecting a strengthening of interest in the ESG asset class.  

Evidencing growing business interest in human rights, UNDP’s Business and Human Rights in Asia (UNDP B+HR Asia) programme was asked by Keidanren, Japan’s premier business federation, to deliver a training on 5 November on the “Practice of Business and Human Rights in Asia in times of COVID-19.” The training was opened by UNDP Assistant Secretary General, Asako Okai. A lecture on the business-case for BHR was delivered by UNDP BHR Advisor, Livio Sarandrea, while a training on human rights due diligence was conducted by UNDP BHR Specialist, Sean Lees. 

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