Japan and Business and Human Rights. The path to having a National Action Plan.
In recent times, the relationship between Business and Human Rights has become a center of attention. So, let's talk about the recent discussions which Japan has had in order to develop its National Action Plan.
Following suit on the calling from the UN to develop a National Action Plan, and linked to the Tokyo Olympics of 2020 and its Sourcing Code, Japan has been having many conversations to create a National Action Plan that can be adequate to the country, hand in hand with looking at the unique obstacles faced.
What is happening in Japan and what do Japanese see as the main obstacles or topics they would like to pursue in their Action Plan?
On November 16 2016, Japan announced that they were planning on formulating its National Action Plan.
On May 16, 2017 the “Civil Society Platform for Japan’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights” published a letter to the Government asking the Government to consider some major points for the National Action Plan.
On July 20 of 2017, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations also published an “Opinion Concerning Priorities to be Included in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights”
On September 22 of 2017, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations organized a Seminar in which the public, private and NGO sectors were invited. This seminar was important because it allowed for a honest conversation of what is happening and the worries of each sector. At the same time, Dr. Surya Deva, the Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, was invited to share his knowledge with the group.
Discussion going on in Japan
The main points discussed during the seminar as an insight of the process going on in Japan were the following:
First of all, it is important to note that even though there are 17 States that have adopted a NAP, up to today, there is no country in Asia with one. Nevertheless, there are several countries working on them.
“Human Rights” term
As pointed out by many of the speakers and people in the seminar, one major issue in Japan is the concept of “human rights” in itself. Because of historic reasons there are bad connotations associated with the term, so reframing the term and making the people aware of what human rights encompasses has been a big obstacle. There seems to be a big progress with the society learning more about human rights, but it is still an obstacle for even talking about the issue.
A positive point about having to think about what are human rights and how to reframe is that lawyers, activists and academics are going deeper trying to understand what do human rights cover, how to measure them, what the baseline is , etc. Asking these kinds of questions can help to have a NAP that covers the most important aspects.
Having all the stakeholders involved
Another issue worth of discussion is how to engage all the stakeholders. There are areas where people do not belong or are not recognized as stakeholders, so the question is how to make sure their voices are heard, or that they even voice an opinion, and that their concerns are incorporated into the NAP. This obstacle might be faced not only by Japan. It is important to note that although not ideal, since the NAPs will be constantly revised and updated, even if there are stakeholders missing in the first NAP, they can be included in further versions.
In relation to labor rights, the concerns were the following: How to deal with the shortage of labor in Japan?, is Japan going to accept more immigrants?, if so, how to make sure there is a good treatment to immigrants?, what is the cost of labor?, how to increase productivity?, what about global labor standards that have not been recognized by Japan? (i.e. working hours). There is also the concern about supply chains and how to make sure locals in other countries also understand and follow the NAP.
Access to grievance mechanisms
An important concern voiced by a recognized lawyer, is the access to judicial and non judicial complaint mechanisms. Japan needs more non judicial mechanisms, so an important question to consider is if there is a need for a national human rights commission.
Japan has not established a concrete timeline or given a date for the NAP. Dr. Deva pointed out that Japan might be in the initial state of drafting a NAP, and that is okay. Nevertheless, it must be clear that once a NAP is adopted is just the beginning of working and following through, and not the end of a process.
Japan is also taking into consideration the Tokyo Olympics of 2020, and working to have a Sourcing Code with a grievance mechanism for this purpose, while recognizing that a NAP might take longer.
 The Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Geneva, Statement by Ambassador Mitsuko SHINO The Permanent Mission of Japan: http://www.geneve-mission.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_ja/statements_rights_20161116.html
 Public letter “To the Government of Japan Regarding National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights”, published on May 16, 2017 by the Civil Society Platform for Japan’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.
 “Opinion Concerning Priorities to be Included in the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights” Japan Federation of Bar Associations. In Japanese: https://www.nichibenren.or.jp/activity/document/opinion/year/2017/170720.html