Business and Human Rights – UK
Politicians of all parties now agree that the private sector is essential to economic growth, both at home and abroad. Yet the last five years have seen a crisis of trust in business following scandals around tax avoidance and excessive executive pay, combined with growing expectations about ethical business standards from consumers and investors.
UK National Action Plan (2013)
The UK has led the way in tackling irresponsible corporate practices. On 4 September 2013, the UK became one of the first countries to release a Business and Human Rights Action Plan, in response to UN agreement of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. CORE gave a cautious welcome to the action plan and urged the government to ensure that it leads to concrete steps to address corporate human rights abuse.
The action plan builds on the government’s commitment to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, agreed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. However, there is little clarity on how the government’s approach will require companies with the worst human rights records to change their behaviour.
The absence of clear commitments to improve access to justice for victims of corporate human rights abuse overseas and the reliance on voluntary corporate self-governance to ensure businesses respect for human rights is of particular concern to CORE and its member organisations.
UK leadership on business and human rights
Now is the time to take this leadership to the next level. Effective international frameworks on tax and investment, measures to prevent abuses in supply chains and steps to guarantee access to justice for victims of irresponsible corporate behaviour should be priorities. Business people, consumers, employees, campaigners, and investors are already talking about what they expect from Government. The run-up to the 2015 General Election is the time for political parties to join the conversation.
Modern Slavery Bill (2014)
Most of the items that we need and use on a daily basis – food, clothing, mobile phones, computers, cars, our children’s toys – are now produced outside of the UK. Encouragingly, consumers are demonstrating a growing interest in the conditions in which the things they buy are produced. To date, voluntary mechanisms have proved ineffective in tackling slavery and forced labour in the supply chain.
The Modern Slavery Bill was published on 10 June 2014 and is the first of its kind in Europe. The aim is to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. It will give law enforcement the tools they need to target today’s slave drivers, ensure perpetrators are severely punished and improve support and protection for victims.
The Bill, therefore, presents an important opportunity to introduce much-needed legislative measures as a necessary first step to improving corporate transparency and accountability for the most serious labour rights violations in the supply chain.
In February 2014, CORE submitted evidence to the joint committee to provide feedback on the draft of the bill.
- Require all large companies, including those not publicly listed on the Stock Exchange to report on key social, environment and human rights issues in their supply chains.
- Amend the Modern Slavery Bill to require large companies to report on what they are doing to identify and address modern slavery in their international supply chains.
Channel 4 Dispatches: Supermarkets
In August 2014, the Channel 4 Dispatches programme investigated supermarket supply chains and revealed the working lives of those at the very bottom: the people who pick, pack and manufacture our food. CORE’s partners, Traidcraft, featured on the programme and highlighted the global issues resulting from intense market pressures.