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22 Feb 2016

Amnesty Intl.

UK government letting British companies "off the hook" for human rights abuses - new report

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UK companies, including BT and Vodafone, may be getting away with human rights abuses abroad because the government’s system of handling complaints against them is grossly inadequate, Amnesty International UK warned in a new report published today. The 80-page report - Obstacle Course: How the UK’s National Contact Point handles human rights complaints under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises - exposes the system as not fit for purpose as it lets companies off the hook when human rights abuses are alleged against them. Its treatment of complaints, the report says, is inconsistent, unreliable, biased towards businesses and out of kilter with the standards it is supposed to uphold...The shortcomings of the UK’s NCP send worrying signals to companies that contributing to human rights abuses is acceptable. Its failure to investigate cases properly has allegedly allowed companies to avoid accountability, even in cases where serious abuses are alleged... Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s business and human rights expert, said:

“The UK holds up this system as one of the best in the world but the stats speak for themselves. It cannot be right that over 70 per cent of cases brought to the National Contact Point are rejected or referred elsewhere before any investigation is carried out. When complaints are considered, the lack of human rights expertise to scrutinise them is a major problem, leading to unfair decisions.

“This study reinforces the stark reality - that the government is failing victims of human rights abuses while giving companies an easy ride. If this continues, individuals and whole communities around the world will receive little protection from this complaints mechanism, even when they are at risk of serious abuses by UK companies. Businesses that could be excellent ambassadors for the UK will have less incentive to conform to international standards when allegations against them are not examined properly. The system needs a complete overhaul.”

Amnesty International is calling on the government to incorporate into the NCP a panel of experts with sufficient human rights experience to assess complaints fairly, to ensure that their appointment is overseen by an independent body rather than BIS, to end the requirement for unreasonably high levels of evidence from complainants and to ensure that assessments take into account the possible future human rights impact of a company’s activity. Furthermore, when a company is found in breach of the guidelines it should face consequences in keeping with the gravity of the breach, such as denial of access to export credits.