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21 Oct 2021

UK: Businesses and investors call for new human rights due diligence law

Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

In October 2021, 36 companies, investors and business associations released a joint statement calling on the UK government to introduce a Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD) law.

Signatories to the statement include John Lewis, Tesco, ASOS, Primark, Unilever and the British Retail Consortium.

The statement says:

“We call for the UK government to urgently bring forward ambitious primary legislation to mandate companies to carry out human rights and environmental due diligence. To level the playing field in practice, the requirement needs to be accompanied by consequences that will be strong enough to ensure that businesses that fall within the scope of the legislation carry out HREDD to a high standard and that victims have access to justice.”

Research from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre shows that UK companies have been linked to a wide range of human rights and environmental abuses worldwide. A HREDD law, with provisions to hold companies and investors legally liable, could help address these abuses. A UK civil society coalition have issued a set of principles for a new law based on the duties to prevent tax evasion and bribery found in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and the Bribery Act 2010. This call is in keeping with the recommendations of a 2017 report from the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights,

The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) has also concluded such a law would be legally feasible within the UK context and more than 30 British civil society groups have called on the urgent introduction of a new UK law. Research from Kingsley Napley and Dr Rachel Chambers has proposed that a law could be enforced by a new public regulator.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre monitors the progress of such laws around the world. Legislation is already in place in France, Germany and Norway with a new law set to be tabled in the EU by the end of 2021. A similar EU-facing statement is signed by 94 investors with over US$6 trillion of assets under management. A similar EU-facing statement is signed by 94 investors with over US$6 trillion of assets under management.

This statement adds to more than 70 statements made by companies and investors worldwide in support of mandatory due diligence regulation.

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