Company Law Reform, 1998 to 2007
1998 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.
2000 This 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.
2001 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.
2002 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.
2003 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.
2004/2005 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.
2006 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. It requires that the 1,300 or so publicly listed companies in the UK report on the following issues, where they are necessary to understanding the company’s business:
- environmental matters, including the impact of the company’s business on the environment
- the company’s employees
- social and community issues
- risks through company supply chains
Under the Act, directors of UK companies have a duty 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.
2007/2008 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’.
Business and Human Rights, 2007 to present
Following the end of the company law reform campaign, CORE focused on access to justice for victims of human rights abuses. We published ‘Corporate Abuse 2007’ and ‘Why Is CSR Failing Children?’ with Save the Children. The following year, we commissioned ‘Filling the Gap: A New Body to Investigate, Sanction and Provide Remedies for Abuses Committed by UK Companies Abroad,’ to encourage debate around the creation of a new non-judicial body that could give victims of corporate abuse access to remedy.
2009 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.
2010 CORE 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.
2011 The UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights created by John Ruggie.
2012 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.
2013 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.
2014 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.
2015 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.
2016 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 business 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.
2017 Working with global partners ICAR, ECCJ, Public Eye, and Above Ground, CORE established a new website, bhrinlaw.org, that tracks legislative developments and case law around the world that relates to mandatory human rights due diligence and parent company accountability.
Regarding the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, we published research on the implementation of the transparency in supply chains clause and short guides on best practice for businesses. We continued to advocate changes to UK corporate governance and corporate criminal liability frameworks, advocating for a failure to prevent economic crime offence.
2018 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 Transparency in Supply Chains (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 in September 2018.
CORE and ICAR published ‘Who Made Our Uniforms?’, a report on UK government apparel procurement. The report makes a series of recommendations for reforms to improve transparency and due diligence among government contractors.
We registered as a charity and recruited seven new trustees.