UK Parliament committee calls for prosecution of parent companies linked to supply chain abuse

The Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) has released the report of its second inquiry on Business and Human Rights - a previous inquiry took place in 2009. Eight years on, the JCHR finds that stronger legislation and enforcement to protect workers' human rights is needed, as well as clearer routes to justice for victims of corporate-related human rights harms.

The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP commented:

"No one wants to be wearing clothes made by child labour, or slave labour. UK companies need to have high standards abroad as well as here at home and they must ensure that there are not human rights abuses in their supply chain. More can be done by the UK Government to ensure that human rights are respected by UK companies in their operations outside the UK. The Government must toughen up the law with a new legal duty on businesses to respect human rights when they are operating abroad. Victims of human rights abuses must have access to the courts...

...When high street retailers spoke to the Committee they told us that maintaining human rights in their supply chain was high up on their agenda, and it is becoming more important to consumers as well. However, serious concerns remain about the lack of speed and ineffectiveness of the action that some companies take when problems emerge. We must guard against any negative impact of the demand for quick, cheap fashion."


Get RSS feed of these results

All components of this story

10 January 2018

UK: Govt. response to the Committee's report on Business and Human Rights 2017

Author: House of Lords & House of Commons

...The Government expects that the UK National Action Plan should run, on the basis of its original and incremental commitments, until at least 2020. The Government would consider whether to update or devise a new plan on that timescale. This timeframe would also enable us to take account of a growing set of National Action Plans overseas, as well as other important initiatives, such as the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark and the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework. 

...The Government does not agree that the reporting requirements are weak. Every year, thousands of businesses must now publish an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business and supply chains...

The Government has already taken steps to address the human rights implications of UK business activities overseas, including the publication and updating of our National Action Plan on business and human rights...

It is a Government priority to strike an agreement with the EU about the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, as early as we can.

The Government has also made a commitment to tackle illegal working and crack down on worker exploitation across all labour sectors. Retaining a strong and coordinated regime is the best way to protect workers’ rights....

Read the full post here

19 June 2017

UK: Companies’ failure to prevent human rights abuses by subsidiaries or suppliers should be a criminal offence says Parliament committee

Author: Katherine Tyler & Sophia Kerridge, Kingsley Napley, in Law Society Gazette (UK)

"Climate Change on Corporate Behaviour", 19 Jun 2017

...[T]he Joint Committee on Human Rights has asked the government to bring forward legislation criminalising one aspect of corporate behaviour that has hitherto been only a reputational consideration for companies. The report asks for a new corporate offence of failing to prevent human rights abuses...

The committee proposes that this offence...would provide a defence for companies which can demonstrate that they had conducted effective human rights due diligence (as recommended by the [UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights]).

It might also have an extraterritorial effect and therefore catch the actions of companies outside the UK’s conventional jurisdictional boundaries.

To enable the proper enforcement of such an offence, the report recommends that ‘the prosecuting authorities are better trained and resourced in investigating breaches of human rights which are criminalised, including for cross-border crimes’....

This new offence, the report proposes, would catch those companies which did not comply with a new statutory obligation (also recommended by the report)  on all companies, including parent companies, to prevent human rights abuses, and which did not put in place effective human rights due diligence both for their subsidiaries and across their whole supply chains...

Read the full post here

5 April 2017

Stronger legislation and enforcement needed to protect workers’ human rights, recommends Joint Committee on Human Rights

Author: Joint Committee on Human Rights

Over the course of this inquiry we were pleased to hear of the growing importance of human rights issues to businesses, consumers and government. Indeed, developments such as the Gangmasters Licencing Authority and Modern Slavery Act have caused real improvements...

The UK must build on work already done and create human rights protections that demand high standards of businesses. Businesses must be required by law to demonstrate how they are ensuring human rights are respected in their operations - if they do not then public bodies must exclude them from procurement opportunities...

Access to justice must be improved and companies must feel the effects of their actions. We would like to see laws enacted to allow victims to bring claims against companies where they have failed to prevent human rights harms from occurring...

A key finding in the report is the importance and difficulty in enforcing best practice throughout supply chains. Major high street retailers will regularly outsource the production of their fashion lines to factories, who may then further subcontract production elsewhere...However, supply chain dynamics, and the uneven distribution of costs and benefits between retailers and manufacturers cannot be discounted as a major factor... A skewed playing field had been created whereby profit margins for suppliers were so small they left no room for improved wages or working conditions...

Read the full post here

5 April 2017

UK corporate accountability coalition welcomes joint committee conclusions, calls for action

Author: CORE

... CORE welcomes call from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights for laws to prevent child labour and other abuses linked to British companies...

“If the Prime Minister is serious about getting tough on irresponsible behaviour in big business, then she must take action to crack down on corporate human rights abuse. The Ministry of Justice is currently considering whether the criminal law regime is a barrier to prosecuting companies for financial crime. This exercise must now be broadened out to look at liability for serious human rights abuses”, said Marilyn Croser (Director of CORE)..

Read the full post here

4 April 2017

Human Rights and Business 2017: Promoting responsibility and ensuring accountability

Author: Joint Committee on Human Rights (UK)

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.

Read the full post here