The UNGPs on business and human rights apply to all states and to all businesses, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure (UNGP, 2011, p1). As the NBA follows the logic of the UNGPs, it covers the operations of a wide range of Belgian and international actors, structured below according to the state actors and related institutions (Pillar I), businesses (Pillar II) and access to remedy (Pillar III). Two subgroups are added: one relates to the actors involved in the policy coherence domain; and one involves the actors engaging with conflict-affected and high-risk areas (CAHRAs).
Pillar I – State
Belgian authorities must protect against human rights abuse by the state and other actors such as businesses. Therefore, several public bodies are competent to develop concrete rules and implement policies to prevent, investigate, punish and redress these negative impacts or violations:
- Federal public services are involved, such as the Federal Public Services of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Economy, Employment, Health, Environment, among others.
- The regions, such as Flanders, Wallonia or Brussels have also competences related to the protection of human rights, such as the entities in charge of environmental protection. The same for local communities.
- When the state interacts with economic actors, public authorities must also ensure that their partners (businesses) comply with the laws and respect human rights in Belgian territory, and abroad. These activities are varied, the most common being: public procurement and privatisation processes, public private partnerships (PPPs), concession of public services, etc.
- When the state holds shares in companies, the company as well as the state entity to which they are linked, are responsible for preventing, respecting and protecting human rights.
- When the state grants economic incentives to businesses, such as labels, preferential credits and insurances for activities in third countries, subsidies, licenses, incentives for target programs such as circular economy projects, etc., relevant public bodies are expected to ensure reinforced oversight and to create mechanisms to avoid that beneficiaries of these incentives cause adverse human rights impacts through their activities. In Belgium, this involves public bodies, such as Credendo, Bio or Finexpo, Flanders Investment and Trade, Awex etc.
Pillar II – Business
The NBA covers all companies, both transnational and others, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure.
CHRB core-indicator assessment: 30 companies have been selected from 10 sectors (three per sector). The sample includes only Belgian companies (i.e., companies headquartered or incorporated in Belgium) and comprises only companies from the Bel 20 stock index and highest-ranking companies in the Trends sectoral rankings (annual turnover).
As SMEs make-up a large part of the economic landscape in Belgium, a specific section will be devoted to this group.
Pillar III – Access to remedy
The state is also responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations that protect human rights. Therefore, it should create state-based grievance mechanisms to guarantee effective remedy. That is why the role of several public bodies will be assessed here.
- Authorities in charge of hearing complaints lodged before non-judicial authorities include: UNIA, Myria, Data Protection Authority, National Contact Point of the OECD, the inspection authorities of some public services, etc.
- Courts and tribunals competent to hear civil, criminal, labour, administrative or environmental claims, for instance, will also be assessed in this study.
The thematic area on policy coherence covers different sections of the Belgian state and regional governments, including the ministries and departments involved in the development of guidance material and training on business and human rights, communication efforts in this area, and SDG reporting. This area also covers the actors involved in the National Action Plan, one of the main instruments to achieve coherence across ministries and departments. Finally, it also covers actors involved in state agreements with business enterprises.
Conflict-affected and high-risk areas (CAHRAs)
This section covers Belgian companies with operations or business relationships in conflict affected and high-risk areas (CAHRAs) in the following five economic sectors: diamonds and precious metals, metals, textiles, food, electronics and arms. When assessing specific policies and practices of companies, a maximum of three companies per sector will be examined, partly overlapping with the sample of companies for the CHRB core-indicator assessment. For the arms sector, the team will assess a selection of 10 companies.
For the role of the state the team will include the development cooperation, foreign and trade ministries, as well as the OECD National Contact Point.