Economic sectors of relevance to Belgium

Why are the laws, guidelines and initiatives important for complying with human rights obligations?

Sector-specific laws, guidelines and initiatives are important instruments for organisations’ compliance with human rights standards. They are tailored to deal with specific challenges of the sector.

Organisations must know and comply with the legal obligations specific to their sector and evaluate the risks that their activities involve for human rights. Industry initiatives, multi-stakeholder initiatives and certification schemes seek to promote, support, facilitate and enforce compliance with human rights law. 

Although organisations should respect all human rights “regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure”, The UNGP also provides sufficient grounds to opt for the sectorial approach:

  • The UNGP (Principle 24) stipulates that organisations should identify the most relevant rights at risk, and prevent and mitigate the most severe risks that are directly related to the type of activity in question.
  • The UNGP (Principles 12 & 24) point out that factors, such as sector, operational context, ownership, the organisation’s size and structure, etc., have a significant impact on the way organisations comply with their duties. 
  • The Interpretive Guide of the UNGP emphasises that the sector and operational context of an organisation “determine which human rights it is at greatest risk of having an impact on in the normal course of its operations.”
  • The National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights from Belgium (Action 22) encourages responsible supply chain management with a sector-wide approach

Tool 6 complements Tool 5 . This tool provides an overview of the multi-stakeholder initiatives signed by Belgium or promoted by international organisations of which Belgium is a member state. The UNGP (Principle 10) encourages states to promote “collective action to orient business in the compliance with human rights” when they act “as members of multilateral institutions that deal with business-related issues”. Multi-stakeholder initiatives are a good opportunity to do so. The sectors addressed in Tool 5 are extractives, agriculture, garments, employment and recruitment, finance, and information and communication technologies. Some environmental and cross-cutting issues are also addressed.

Several of these regulations and guidelines have a focus on the human rights compliance in the supply chain, which assist organisations in conducting human rights due diligence.

The guiding role of the state

Tool 6 was created as a guide for organisations to help them prevent adverse human rights impacts. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that organisations respect human right in their activities and business relations  (also see tool 2 on state responsibility as defined by the UNGP). States should therefore promote expected outcomes and best practices, and encourage the appropriate methods to address issues such as vulnerability.

To prevent adverse human right impacts, organisations may need to go further than the binding human rights regulations. Tool 6, therefore, identifies specific circumstances where organisations “may need to consider additional standards” (UNGP Principle 12) to respect the human rights, particularly of individuals belonging to vulnerable groups

How were the sectors selected?

Tool 6 includes economic sectors of relevance to the Belgian economy. These sectors were identified based on a survey by the newspaper De TIJD, which mapped the largest businesses in Belgium. As a first step, this tool includes the following sectors: construction, metals and minerals, pharmaceuticals, and transport. The arms trade and diamond sectors (the latter integrated under metals and minerals) are not part of this survey, but they were included because of their relevance for human rights. Other sectors will progressively be incorporated into Tool 6.

How does Tool 6 relate to the other tools in the Toolbox?

The information in Tool 6 aims to guide organisations and stakeholders through the additional standards on human rights. This way, organisations can better identify possible risks related to their specific economic sector and take measures to prevent or mitigate them. These rules and guidelines complement the general ones presented elsewhere in this toolbox. They provide additional insights into these specific sectors, and highlight points for attention that may form specific challenges, particularly in value chains