The UK Supreme Court ruled that companies can owe a duty of care to people harmed by their subsidiaries’ activities, in a case brought by Zambian communities against mining giant Vedanta. CORE intervened in the case with the International Commission of Jurists. Our sustained advocacy has successfully highlighted the need to strengthen the transparency in supply chains (TISC) provision of the Modern Slavery Act. On top of this, we continued to highlight that transparency requirements alone are insufficient to end corporate practise that harms people and planet. We launched a new campaign for a law to require companies to prevent human rights abuses and environmental damage throughout their supply chains and operations, and to be held accountable when they fail to do so.
Following a ruling that oil giant Shell cannot be held responsible for pipeline spills that have devastated the environment in the Niger Delta, CORE and 45 civil society organisations from around the world wrote to the UK Supreme Court in support of the claimants’ application to appeal. We submitted evidence to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, highlighting the shortcomings of the TISC clause. The chair of the Committee used our points to ask tough questions of the Home Office in an evidence session, contributing towards the Government announcing an independent review of the Act. CORE and ICAR published ‘Who Made Our Uniforms?’, a report on UK government apparel procurement. We also registered as a charity and recruited seven new trustees.
Working with global partners ICAR, ECCJ, Public Eye, and Above Ground, CORE established a new website, bhrinlaw.org, to track legislative and case law developments related to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. We published research on the implementation of the Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) clause of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and worked with Anti-Slavery International, Unicef UK and Business and Human Rights Resource Centre to produce short guides on best practice for businesses. We continued to advocate changes to UK corporate governance and corporate criminal liability frameworks, including a “failure to prevent economic crime” offence.
Following the passage of the Modern Slavery Act, CORE published ‘Beyond Compliance: Effective Reporting Under the Modern Slavery Act Transparency in Supply Chain Clause’, a guide for businesses on modern slavery statements. To assist communities in developing countries we also published a guide on holding UK companies to account in the English courts for harming people in other countries.
Working with our partner organisations and anti-slavery groups, we successfully campaigned for the Modern Slavery Bill to be amended to include a clause requiring companies to report on what they are doing to address slavery and human trafficking in their global supply chains.
As part of a European Commission-funded project on addressing barriers to accessing justice faced by victims of business-related human rights abuses, CORE held a major conference at the Law Society of England and Wales. We provided a briefing for investors and equity analysts on human rights incidents at African Barrick Gold’s North Mara Mine in Tanzania.
We worked with organisations across Europe to ensure the EU Non-Financial Reporting directive would be an effective tool for improved corporate transparency. With ICAR and ECCJ, CORE published ‘The Third Pillar: Access to Judicial Remedy for Human Rights Violations by Transnational Business’. CORE participated in discussions to inform the content of the UK government’s National Action Plan Business and Human Rights.
CORE recruited a new Director and secured grants from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. The scope of our activity evolved to include advocacy, research and providing technical advice on business and human rights.
CORE published a report recommending changes to the UK regime for environmental and social reporting by companies, with a foreword from Lisa Nandy MP. We also engaged extensively in the work of Professor John Ruggie, Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on Business and Human Rights. We hosted a parliamentary reception with Prof. Ruggie and took part in several of the meetings and consultations that were organised as part of his mandate. ‘Protecting Rights, Repairing Harm‘, a report looking at how state-based mechanisms can help fill gaps in human rights protection for victims of corporate abuse, was prepared for Prof. Ruggie. In 2011 the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
We published ‘Reality of Rights’ with the London School of Economics, a report highlighting the barriers to accessing remedies when business operates beyond borders. In the same year, we made submissions to the UK parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into business and human rights.
CORE commissioned ‘Filling the Gap’ to encourage debate around the creation of a new non-judicial body that could give victims of corporate abuse access to remedy. We also published a review of the UK National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises with the TUC and RAID.
Company Law Reform, 1998 to 2007
In order to ensure directors effectively understood their obligations, CORE produced its own guidance, written by David Chivers QC which was sent to the FTSE 100. We also produced ‘Act Now! A Campaigners Guide to the Companies Act’. Following the end of the company law reform campaign, CORE focused on access to justice for victims of human rights abuses. We published ‘Why Is CSR Failing Children?’ with Save the Children.
The campaign was at its height as the Company Law Reform bill (which became the Companies Act) made its passage through parliament. CORE produced a lobby pack on the issues for campaign supporters and over 100,000 people contacted their MP. More than 225 MPs signed a parliamentary petition supporting CORE’s proposed amendments to the bill. The Companies Act became law at the end of 2006, and requires directors of UK companies to not only to maximise profits but also to consider the impacts of their business operations on the community and the environment. This was the first time that the words ‘community’ and ‘environment’ have been mentioned in UK company law in this way, and at the time, no other country in the world demand this kind of responsibility from company directors. Companies’ annual reports must show how directors are performing these duties.
In May 2004, the Trade Justice Movement joined the campaign but progress was stalled in 2005, when the government backtracked on its decision to require companies to produce an annual operating and financial review.
By the end of 2003 more than 300 MPs had signed motions supporting the bill’s principles and calling on the government to act. As the Company Law Review process gathered momentum, CORE identified three key policy demands:
- Large and medium sized companies should have to report annually on their environmental and social impacts
- Company directors should have a legal duty to minimize, manage and mitigate their environmental and social impacts
- Obstacles should be removed to ensure foreign victims of UK companies can access justice here in the UK, should they not be able to access justice at home
CORE instigated and promoted a private member’s bill, known as the Corporate Responsibility Bill. The bill was tabled by Linda Perham MP and identified new standards in the areas of corporate reporting, directors’ duties and foreign direct liability. Although the bill did not benefit from a parliamentary debate, it enjoyed widespread cross-party support.
The opportunity presented itself in the form of a CSR bill, drafted by a group of organisations. Friends of the Earth, NEF, Traidcraft, Christian Aid and Amnesty International then received a four year grant for the campaign from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
The Labour Government’s plan to review company law led to the formulation of the Corporate Accountability Network (CAN). CAN was an informal network, led by the New Economics Foundation (nef) and Traidcraft, and participants included Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, WWF-UK, The Co-operative Bank, WDM and others. Later that year, civil society groups met to discuss how best to take advantage of the campaigning opportunities presented by the coming Company Law Review.
CORE was formed when the Labour Government announced its plan to review company law in 1998 and started consulting with various stakeholders. The consultation process sparked discussions about if and how company law could be used to improve corporate accountability. At the time, many NGOs were campaigning against corporations’ negative impacts on people and the environment, and companies were developing and promoting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies in response to these concerns.