Misreading Human Rights Due Diligence: A Response to Tara Van Ho
On November 2, 2021, Tara Van Ho, Senior Lecturer at Essex University, posted “The Unexpected Trade and Business Implications of Israel’s Attack on Al Haq” at Opinio Juris. In the piece, Van Ho condemns Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs for their alleged affiliations with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in particular the designation of Palestinian NGO Al Haq, which she characterizes as the “leading business and human rights NGO in the Middle East” and “one of the UN’s most trusted NGO partners.”
Van Ho’s post, however, added another dimension, largely based on a misreading of human rights due diligence standards under the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the Arms Trade Treaty, and the role to be played by NGOs in their processes. Advocating for NGOs to play a central role in human rights due diligence, Van Ho claims that they “carry an additional responsibility,” can “help businesses and third-party states negotiate tricky compromises,” can “bring proposals from businesses back to affected stakeholders,” and can offer “creative and legitimate mitigation efforts in complex environments like Israel and Palestine.”
Because of the central role she accords to NGOs, Van Ho goes on to claim that by “attacking and foreclosing civil society space, [Israel’s Defense Minister] Gantz has undermined the ability of businesses and states to continue trading with or within Israel while respecting human rights.” Van Ho similarly claims that the designation of a single NGO means that “additional data points necessary for human rights due diligence are also gone” and that “there is simply no way for businesses or states to get the comprehensive picture needed for human rights due diligence.”
These latter claims are not supportable.