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Human Rights and Business 2017: Promoting responsibility and ensuring accountability

Human rights violations, such as child labour, prevention of free association and forced and compulsory labour all occur within the realm of business activity. Examples of multinational companies violating the human rights of their workers or of local communities are extensive. When UK companies source or manufacture goods in less developed countries where there are weaker mechanisms for protecting human rights than in the UK, serious violations can occur. Human rights are just as important abroad as they are in the UK, and we want to see UK companies being exemplary in their respect for human rights wherever they operate...

We commend the Government for being the first in the world to publish a National Action Plan. However, we are disappointed that the updated National Action Plan, published in 2016, is modest in scope and fails to incorporate best practice regarding having measureable objectives.The Government must lead by example and demonstrate the same behaviour it expects from businesses...

The Modern Slavery Act in 2015 has raised the profile of the problem of modern slavery within UK companies and their supply chains abroad. However, more action is needed before any meaningful changes brought about by the Act can be evaluated. We believe that the Government could make a positive start by facilitating the passage of Baroness Young of Hornsey’s Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill and by introducing laws to make reporting on due diligence for all other relevant human rights compulsory for large businesses...

The UK is weakest in the area of access to remedy. A number of obstacles to justice exist including changes to limit legal aid provision, limits on the recovery of legal costs in these types of case, increases in court and tribunal fees, and the otherwise high costs of civil action...

...we considered the effect of Brexit on business and human rights. We heard that concerns about the status of EU workers in the UK may leave them more vulnerable to labour exploitation and we urge the Government to reassure workers that all victims of human rights abuses will be protected, without reference to nationality or immigration status.

We were encouraged that the Government plans to include human rights clauses in all future bilateral trade agreements and encourage it to include provisions on enforcement, and to undertake human rights impact assessments before agreeing trade agreements.

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