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UK: It is time for the UK to demonstrate leadership on business and human rights

'It is time for the UK to demonstrate leadership on business and human rights', 30 June 2021

" A decade ago this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously welcomed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

The UNGPs set out an authoritative framework for state duties and business responsibilities towards fulfilling human rights. They highlight the essential role that access to remedy can play in providing justice to those affected by corporate abuses. They also set out the need for a “smart mix” of policies, including mandatory measures, to meet these aims.

The ten-year anniversary of the UNGPs serves as a milestone to reflect both on what has and what has not been achieved. This must include the over-emphasis placed by states and businesses alike on voluntary approaches to tackling business abuses of human rights in corporate groups and supply chains. To close this gap, the UK must introduce its own mandatory requirements for businesses to respect all human rights.

Systemic, persistent human rights abuses and environmentally destructive practices are commonplace in the global operations and supply chains of UK businesses. Marginalised groups such as women, indigenous peoples, children and migrant workers, among others, are disproportionately impacted and UK consumers become complicit in buying goods and services tainted by human rights abuses through no fault of their own.

It is high time that the UK implemented its own mandatory requirements for businesses to respect all human rights. The UK was the first country to develop a ‘Business and Human Rights National Action Plan’ based on the UNGPs and one of the first to pass a domestic supply chain law, in the form of S.54 of the Modern Slavery Act. However, it is now widely accepted the S.54 is not fit for purpose to prevent forced labour abuses and modern slavery in supply chains – against the backdrop of the G7, led by the UK, explicitly committing to eradicate “the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains”.

Our Coalition, which spans NGOs, trade unions and law firms, is calling on the UK government to urgently introduce a new UK law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms. This law should mandate companies – across all sizes and sectors, including financial organisations - and the public sector to undertake ‘human rights and environmental due diligence’ across their supply chains..."

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