Politics of Poverty

The National Action Plan: tackling supply-chain human rights violations

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bangladesh factory
Scene from a textile factory in Bangladesh. US companies need to address rights violations that take place along their supply chains. Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

The latest NAP represents a big improvement but leaves the door open to abuses.

Across the globe, the business practices of US companies are resulting in human rights violations. Indigenous communities are witnessing the theft of their ancestral lands, workers are enduring grueling hours for low wages, and local communities are suffering from contamination of their land, air, and water. When corporate leaders put profits before the well-being of people and the planet, the communities whose resources they target have little recourse.

Which means US government regulation of US company practices is essential.

The recent release of the US government’s National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct (NAP) marks a significant milestone in the ongoing battle against human rights abuses within the domestic operations and the global supply chains of US companies. Oxfam has actively engaged in the consultation process; there is no doubt that this version of the NAP is a huge improvement over the last one, but some significant weaknesses remain.


The NAP underscores the US government's commitment to addressing adverse impacts on human and labor rights and the environment. It states that its first priority is to strengthen policy coordination around business and human rights with all stakeholders, including civil society organizations, the private sector, and affected communities. Increasing coherence and coordination among agencies and departments is indeed a key issue.

The second stated priority is respect for human rights in federal procurement policies and processes, which is commendable. It emphasizes Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD), especially within procurement processes, where the administration wields significant influence.

Equally encouraging is the pledge to facilitate improved methods for workers and civil society to report human-trafficking violations by federal contractors, thereby enhancing transparency and accountability across the supply chain.

The third priority is access to remedy and the need to strengthen due diligence processes and grievance mechanisms. Oxfam is particularly pleased to see a clear and strong policy against reprisals, which was one of our recommendations.

The NAP incorporates some of Oxfam’s other recommendations, such as the need to increase the engagement of stakeholders —including workers—to strengthen the role of what’s called the US National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines, and to improve the NCP’s confidentiality policy. Improving the functioning of the US NCP is key to enabling better access to remedy from US businesses whose practices are causing harm to rights-holders around the world.

It is encouraging to see a commitment to increased transparency by committing to publicly disclose the existence and status of pending cases on the NCP’s website.

Finally, the commitment to promote internationally recognized labor rights, including freedom of association and the right not to be subjected to forced labor is promising. This includes measures to improve Custom and Border Patrol’s ability to identify and prevent the entry of products made with forced labor into the United States.


Despite these positive developments, the NAP comes up short on important issues.

The USG should have used this opportunity to make mandatory the conduct of robust, gender-responsive HRDD processes from all federal contractors, in alignment with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). History—and years of human suffering connected to bad corporate practices—has taught us that voluntary processes won’t bring about the desired changes. Making HRDD mandatory within federal procurement would reduce the negative human-rights impact of company practices while leveling the playing field for all businesses supplying the federal government.

Perhaps most concerning is the gender blindness apparent in the NAP. Despite Oxfam's efforts to advocate for a gender-sensitive approach to HRDD, the NAP lacks any such recommendations. Additionally, there is a lack of acknowledgment of or provisions for vulnerable groups, including Indigenous peoples, and their right to free, prior, and informed consent.

In conclusion, while the revised NAP represents progress, there remains substantial room for improvement. Oxfam is committed to advocating for policies that uphold human rights across all sectors and demographics, ensuring transparency and accountability in business practices. We will continue to call for stronger regulation to rein in corporate power.

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