Saturday, December 19, 2009

Regulate corporate conduct abroad: UK parliamentary report

In a gentle but persuasive manner, a report by a British Parliamentary committee is telling the government how it must do more to embed human rights into the overseas operations of British multinationals.

Using forced labor, polluting neighborhoods, collaborating with repressive regimes, and helping in projects that force people out of their homes – these were among the serious corporate human rights violations that demonstrated the need for government action, according to the committee chair, Andrew Dismore.

The 129-page committee report, issued December 16, criticizes the Labor government for relying on voluntary codes of conduct and other non-enforceable measures instead of using tougher tools it has available to improve the global conduct of British corporations.

Leading a list of specific recommendations is that the government use its own “immense power as a purchaser [to] take responsibility for human rights impacts on its supply chain.” This would require “clear and detailed measures to ensure that the UK takes a lead as an ethical consumer.”

Among the other items on the report’s “to do” list:

-- Public investment: as in public procurement, “there is clear merit in encouraging public authorities to adopt an ethical or social responsible approach.”
-- Export credit guarantees: if the Export Credit Guarantee Department continues to resist requiring applicants to perform “due diligence of human rights impacts,” then the requirement should be written into law.
-- Company law: although the Company Act of 2006 was an improvement, it should be amended to require an annual human rights impact assessment.

Above all, the report urges the government to be “more proactive” in providing clearer guidance and support in the above and other areas.

The Parliamentary inquiry followed the framework established by John Ruggie, UN special representative on business and human rights, and quotes his 2009 UN report throughout. In fact, Ruggie testified at committee hearings, as did experts from a wide range of other organizations, including the Trades Union Congress.

For links to the report and related material, check the Business & Human Rights Resources Center website at:

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