Leading businesses, investors and civil society groups call on the Prime Minister to pass new law requiring companies to carry out human rights and environmental due diligence
Signatories include British Retail Consortium, Tesco, Mars, abrdn, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
On 30 September 2022, the eve of the Conservative Party Conference, 63 leading businesses, investors and civil society organisations have written to Prime Minister Liz Truss calling for the UK Government to “urgently introduce a new law requiring companies to carry out human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) across their operations and value chains”.
The letter states: “…UK businesses, investors and other financial actors have a responsibility to respect our shared human rights and the environment. The process of continuously conducting robust human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) is a core requirement for businesses and investors in fulfilling that responsibility…
“…The UK now has a clear opportunity to retain its leading role on this issue and to shape global business conduct for the better - rather than following the footsteps of others. Yet, we are concerned that the UK Government is yet to confirm plans for a new UK law on this issue. Instead, it has repeatedly cited its support for voluntary frameworks - despite the gaps that voluntary approaches leave in regulating global business conduct. Continuing on this path will position the UK as a laggard on these issues, creating an uneven playing field for UK businesses operating in these markets and following these new, mandatory rules…”
Countries across Europe, and the EU itself, are introducing new human rights and environmental due diligence laws. France already has the Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law and due diligence laws are at different stages of development in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Belgium, among others. The EU’s proposed Directive, tabled in February 2022, is expected to apply to large UK businesses operating in the Single Market.
Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Our members are accepting their responsibility for their supply chains by implementing measures to maintain high standards of human rights and ethical standards. However, we will only make real change by seeing the same approach in all supply chains, which is why we support mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence for all businesses and call on the Government to urgently introduce laws enforcing this practice.”
James Corah, Head of Sustainability, CCLA Investment Management, said: “The UK’s UK Modern Slavery Act set a new standard for regulation aimed at business and human rights. However, time has moved on and our law must do too. As investors we call upon the Government to take steps to make the UK a leading force in business and human rights once again. Introducing Mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence is not about increasing regulation on business but creating a level playing field that will allow them to thrive. At this difficult period for our economy and our country we should not seek to gain a competitive advantage by failing to protect the most vulnerable members of our global community.”
Mark Dearn, Director, Corporate Justice Coalition, said: “Businesses, investors, rights groups and the British public are united in their demand for a new UK supply chain law - and rightly so, because we won’t be able to protect human rights and the environment without new rules to root out the supply chain abuses that happen every day, all over the world. As other countries press ahead with the new laws with legal liability that are urgently needed to keep step with the changing nature of business, the UK Government can’t keep burying its head in the sand by saying that voluntary commitments are all that’s required. Businesses and investors want this, people and the planet need it, and the Government must step up and take action.”
Tom Wills, Trade and Corporate Accountability Project Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Without action, the UK is at urgent risk of becoming a market for goods tainted with forced labour and environmental destruction. The lack of effective UK legislation also poses problems for UK companies who operate internationally where they will be held to different standards. There is enough evidence to demand an urgent response from the UK Government. It’s time for a due diligence law that would require companies to fulfill their duty to assess, monitor and disclose any human rights risks in their supply chains.”
Note to editors:
- The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre monitors the progress of human rights and environmental due diligence laws around the world. Legislation is already in place in France, Germany and Norway.
- UK companies have been linked to human rights and environmental abuses worldwide, as demonstrated in an online hub from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
- 47 major UK companies and investors, including ASOS, Tesco and Unilever, have already called for the UK government to introduce such a law. A separate statement from UK investors with a total of £4.5 trillion in assets under management and advice echoed that call.
- YouGov polling shows that 4 in 5 Britons want a new UK supply chain law to tackle exploitation and environmental destruction.
- The UK currently has a “piecemeal” approach to regulation on business, human rights and the environment, for example, spanning the Companies Act 2006 S.72, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 S.54, the Environment Act 2021 Schedule 17 and English Common Law. As law firm Herbert Smith Freehills notes: "There is a risk… that the UK's approach could lead to a patchwork of rules that impose a greater compliance burden on businesses."
Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]