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17 Apr 2024

Over 150 businesses & investors call on the UK Government to create ambitious human rights and environmental due diligence legislation

On 17 April businesses and investors released a statement in support of a Business Human Rights & Environment Act (BHREA). The statement calls on the UK Government to create ambitious primary legislation, which would mandate businesses and the public sector to prevent human rights and environmental harm in their own operations and value chains by conducting human rights and environmental due diligence. The statement builds on the momentum for legislation after Baroness Young of Hornsey introduced a Private Members Bill to the House of Lords which would address many of the elements businesses are calling for. As we increasingly witness a shift from voluntary to mandatory models of due diligence in multiple jurisdictions, the statement calls on the British Government to play a leading role in developing legislation that is effective in meeting the huge social and environmental challenges present in value chains and is required to develop truly sustainable and rights centred business models.

In light of already developing legislation around the world, the UK must now act to set its own legal standards and not fall further behind. The statement follows earlier calls from businesses and investors for such legislation, and in this case states the key elements needed for robust legislation.

The statement recommends legislation that:

  • Is aligned with international standards, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
  • Mandates human rights and environmental due diligence for all businesses, regardless of size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure with responsibilities varying depending on proportionality as set out in the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines.
  • Ensures accountability when businesses cause or contribute to harms and enables and supports the provision of adequate and effective remedy.
  • Holds businesses legally liable for harm, loss and damage arising from their failure to prevent adverse human rights and environmental impacts within their operations and throughout their global value chains and requires them to adequately compensate victims of abuse.
  • Includes accountability at board level to ensure good corporate governance.

Importantly, the proposed failure-to-prevent model for liability has also been recommended by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and was identified as legally feasible by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. The model is already established within UK law with the Bribery Act 2010, the Criminal Finance Act 2017 and the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023. The model is also backed by 38 civil society organisations and trade unions.

“Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, but many don’t do so voluntarily. We need a new law to enforce it and using the Bribery Act model is a key element to make it effective. We urge the UK to show leadership on the environment and human rights.”
Joke Aerts, who leads Tony's Open Chain, the open-source platform which supports sustainable cocoa sourcing, signatory for Tony's Chocolonely
“Among G7 nations, the UK ranks top in terms of its commitment to sustainability. For investors to effectively contribute to a sustainable economy, they need a robust law mandating human rights and environmental due diligence of businesses. We urge the UK government to show leadership by embracing a new mHREDD law, aligned with international business and human rights standards without compromise.”
Simona Campioni, Senior ESG Analyst at signatory EFG Asset Management

Statement and business signatories (pdf)

Investor signatories to the statement represent more than £1.4 trillion in assets under management.