UK's OECD National Contact Point fails to hold companies accountable for human rights abuses, says Amnesty

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Report
23 February 2016

Executive Summary: Obstacle Course - How the UK’s National Contact Point handles human rights complaints under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

Author: Amnesty Intl.

The UK NCP, based in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), enjoys a reputation as being one of the best performing. This is largely the result of structural and procedural reforms introduced in 2008 following criticism of the NCP’s handling of allegations of misconduct by British companies operating in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo... This study considers the trends in the 25 complaints alleging breaches of the human rights principles of the Guidelines that have been submitted to the UK NCP since the 2011 revision. It categorises the business sectors associated with the complaints and details the nature of the allegations against the companies concerned. The report examines how complaints have been dealt with by the UK NCP across three stages – initial assessment, mediation and determination. It assesses the extent to which the NCP complies with the OECD Guidelines’ implementation procedures and the extent to which the NCP’s statements and decisions are aligned with the Human Rights chapter of the Guidelines. Recommendations are made for improving the effectiveness of the UK NCP with regard to these findings.

The main findings and conclusions are as follows: Lack of predictability, accessibility and compatibility with the Guidelines...Ignoring objectives of complainants...Inappropriately high evidential thresholds...Inconsistency and invention...Downplaying future impacts...The Steering Board loses its grip...Partiality...Under-resourced

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Article
22 February 2016

Department for Business 'failing to uphold human rights commitments'

Author: Patrick Wintour, Guardian (UK)

Civil servants in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are giving British companies the all-clear to press ahead with contracts even though they are likely to lead to human rights abuses, the foreign affairs select committee will be told on Tuesday. The all-party committee is investigating whether the Foreign Office has downgraded its commitment to defending human rights in favour of a more commercial and trade-driven approach. MPs on the committee decided to hold the brief inquiry after Sir Simon McDonald, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, said human rights no longer had the “profile” within his department they had in the past. Amnesty International, due to give evidence to the committee, claims a little-known UK National Contact Point (NCP) in BIS has been charged with handling any complaints that a private sector contract conflicts with the UK’s human rights commitments. It says the panel of civil servants is “unqualified to make complex human rights judgments and lacking the resources to properly investigate claims put to them”...Amnesty claims the system of handling complaints is “inconsistent, unreliable, biased towards businesses and out of kilter with the standards it is supposed to uphold”.  The group found that 60% of human rights complaints in the past five years have been rejected without full investigation, leaving individuals and whole communities at greater risk of abuse. A further 12% have been referred to other NCPs that exist in 45 other countries. It was also taking more than six months on average for a complaint to complete its initial assessment, and longer complaints can take as long as two years. Amnesty also claims the UK insists that complainants put forward a level of evidence higher than that required by the OECD guidelines and higher than that which the companies are required to provide in their defence.

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Report
22 February 2016

Full report: Obstacle Course - How the UK’s National Contact Point handles human rights complaints under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

Author: Amnesty Intl.

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Item
22 February 2016

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

Author: Amnesty Intl.

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.

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