Stop the UK government letting British companies off the hook for human rights abuses – new report and petition
CORE and Amnesty International UK are calling on the UK government to do more to hold British companies to account for human rights and environmental abuses at home and abroad.
Our call to action accompanies the release of Amnesty International UK’s new report, ‘Obstacle Course: how the UK’s National Contact Point handles human rights complaints under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises’. The report provides the first in-depth investigation of the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (UK NCP), one of the few avenues available for victims of human rights abuse by British companies overseas to seek remedy in the UK.
Amnesty show that there are major flaws in the NCP’s operation – ones that send a worrying signal to companies that contributing to human rights abuses is acceptable.
The UK has a responsibility to ensure its NCP’s complaint handling mechanism is fit for purpose and reflects international human rights standards. We’re asking the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to take immediate action, and enable complaints about abuses by UK companies to be properly examined, by overhauling the NCP – and making it the effective system the government claims it to be.
We’re calling on him to make sure that UK companies who cause or contribute to human rights and environmental abuses are held accountable for their actions through a robust and independent complaints system.
Finally, we’re asking that companies face the consequences where they have caused or contributed to abuses – including criminal prosecution if appropriate.
You can join us, and help ensure that companies are held to account for human rights abuses overseas by signing the petition.
What is the NCP?
Every day, British companies are complicit in human rights abuses overseas. Big name brands are accused: Vodafone, BT, G4S; sometimes as repeat offenders. There are few, if any consequences for the companies concerned, while local barriers to justice for their victims are typically insurmountable.
The UK government provides a small number of avenues through which victims of corporate abuses can seek remedy in the UK. One of these is the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (UK NCP), which is housed in the UK government’s department of Business, Skills and Innovation.
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are recommendations for responsible business conduct that the UK is obliged to encourage its companies to observe wherever they operate in the world. These include clear standards relating to respect for human rights, co-operation with local communities and contribution to sustainable economic, environmental and social progress when doing business in other countries.
When UK companies breach these guidelines, complaints can be filed with the UK NCP. In theory, at least, the NCP’s role is to mediate disputes between companies and those adversely affected by their activities, and in so doing provide a much-needed forum for individuals and communities to access remedy for corporate abuses.
But the reality deviates far from this expectation.
Companies let off the hook
Amnesty show that the NCP’s treatment of complaints is unreliable, biased towards businesses and out of kilter with the standards it is supposed to uphold. Its failure to investigate properly has allowed UK companies to avoid accountability, even in cases where serious abuses are alleged, such as:
- BT providing communications and surveillance services to a military base in Dijbouti from which armed US drones carry out lethal missions over Yemen;
- G4S providing ‘janitorial services’ at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where unlawful practices are taking place such as the indefinite detention of prisoners without trial and force-feeding by the US army;
- GCM Resources moving to establish a huge open-pit coal mine in Bangladesh, despite evidence that thousands of people will be forcibly displaced and severe ecological damage will follow;
- Shell and three of the largest UK banks maintaining business relationships with companies causing human rights harms abroad, such as the operator of a highly polluting liquefied natural gas plant on Sakhalin Island, Russia.
Cases such as these, with unambiguous threats to fundamental human rights, deserve serious consideration. Yet time and time again the NCP’s handling of complaints has been inadequate. Amnesty show that:
- Sixty percent of human rights complaints in the last five years have been rejected without investigation, leaving individuals and whole communities at greater risk of abuse.
- Complainants are required to put forward a level of evidence higher than that which the companies are required to provide in their defence – one far higher than that required by the guidelines the NCP is supposed to be upholding.
- Complaints are considered by a panel of civil servants not ideally qualified to interpret the OECD guidelines and make complex human rights judgements, and lacking the resources to adequately address the cases put before them. Many complaints experience huge delays as a result.
These shortcomings, taken in conjunction, are far-reaching and cannot be resolved with a bit of tinkering with the complaints handling process. The UK has a responsibility to ensure its NCP’s complaint handling mechanism is fit for purpose and reflects international human rights standards.
This is why Amnesty International UK and CORE are calling on the UK government to make structural changes to the NCP to ensure that companies are held accountable for their actions overseas.
Join us by adding your signature to the petition, and tell the government that more needs to be done to held UK companies to account for human rights abuses, wherever they operate.