CORE works with our partner organisations on a range of corporate accountability issues. Our approach is informed by partners’ experience of engaging directly with communities around the world who are adversely affected by corporate activities, and with business through various voluntary initiatives designed to raise standards.
This has shaped our view that whilst there is a place for voluntary schemes, they often involve only big-name brands and don’t reach the laggard companies that have no incentive to engage. Government action is therefore needed to make sure that UK companies operate to high social and environmental standards throughout their operations.
The Guiding Principles provide an authoritative global standard for addressing adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity, wherever such impacts occur. The UK was one of the first countries to release a national action plan on business and human rights, setting out how the UNGPs would be implemented. The UK government released its updated plan in May 2016. Whilst the publication of an updated plan demonstrates that the UK remains engaged with business and human rights, CORE finds the lack of ambition in many areas disappointing. In particular, the plan offers very little to people who are denied justice after being harmed by the international operations of UK companies. Access to remedy is one of the three ‘Pillars’ of the UNGPs.
CORE believes that companies should be transparent about the risks and impacts that their operations can have on people and the environment. To this end, CORE has worked on a several pieces of legislation that relate to company reporting, including successfully campaigning for the UK Companies Act to include requirements for company directors to take into account social, environmental, community and human rights issues in their running of the company and (for listed companies) to report every year on how they’ve done this. We also worked with our partners and anti-slavery organisations to campaign the Modern Slavery Act to include a requirement for companies to report on what they are doing to tackle slavery and forced labour in their supply chains.
The third pillar of the UNGPs set out the requirement that governments provide access to remedy for people who have been harmed by corporate activity. Access to judicial remedy is an important, but neglected pillar for corporate accountability. When a corporation abuses human rights or damages the environment, it’s vital that the company concerned be held to account and that the people who are affected can seek redress from the company concerned. Despite the established duty, there are still significant barriers to access to judicial remedy for transnational human rights violations.
Most of the items that we need on a daily basis – food, clothing, mobile phones, computers, cars, children’s toys – are now produced outside of the UK or include materials sourced elsewhere. Yet the conditions for people working in UK companies international supply chains are often dangerous, and sometimes deadly. On April 24 2013, the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1130 workers, many of them young women. CORE wants to see reporting from all large companies, not just those listed on the Stock Exchange, on key social, environmental and human rights issues in their supply chains.