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22 Oct 2021

Emily Hawkins, CityAM

UK: Tesco and ASOS call for legal crackdown on human rights abuse

'Tesco and ASOS call for legal crackdown on human rights abuse', 22 October 2021

"Some 36 household names – including Primark and John Lewis – have issued a joint statement calling for fresh human rights and environmental due diligence law.

A legal review by Blackstone Chambers found that fast fashion brand Boohoo could have been held liable for rights abuses in its Leicester supply chain, under proposed legislation.

In a joint statement, companies including Microsoft and Twinings, said: “Such a requirement to prevent abuse of human rights and environmental harm in global operations and value chains would deliver on the government’s commitments to the levelling up agenda and to the transition to a net zero economy.”

The statement said businesses need to face consequences strong enough to ensure they abide by rules and that victims can have access to justice.

Thulsi Narayanasamy from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said voluntary initiatives to encourage businesses to respect workers’ rights had failed.

“It speaks volumes that leading businesses and investors themselves are uniting to call for a level playing field and a clear regulatory environment to ensure that the rights of the most vulnerable are respected. We want to see this requirement backed up by strong liability provisions that will hold companies legally accountable if they fail to prevent abuses,” Narayanasamy added.

European countries are adopting new HREDD laws, such as the corporate duty of vigilance law in France and legislation under development elsewhere on the continent.

The European Union is set to table a new initiative later this year, that will apply to all UK firms operating in the single market. 

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and Corporate Justice Coalition commissioned a legal review into Boohoo’s liability under proposed legislation.

Overseeing the review, Timothy Otty QC and Naina Patel of Blackstone Chambers, said the online retailer could have been found liable for breaches of the guiding principles “under mandatory human rights due diligence/UK ‘failure to prevent’ legislation in the form of the BIICL Model Legal Provision, had such legislation been in place during the relevant period of time.”

“Of course, it is difficult to speculate as to whether Boohoo might have behaved differently had such legislation been in place,” they added..."

Part of the following timelines

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

QC says Boohoo could have been liable for human rights breaches under a new UK law