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Foreign Office guide will stick to the ethical basics

May 1999

The man responsible for drawing up a new Foreign Office manual to help companies invest ethically overseas has said the guide will take a tough stance on child labour, the environment, working practices, human rights and corruption. But it is likely to shy away from industry-specific issues such as tobacco and GM foods.

Alistair Newton, head of the ministry’s newly established Global Citizenship Unit, told Ethical Performance that the manual, which has been commissioned by foreign secretary Robin Cook as part of his new drive to introduce an ‘ethical dimension’ into the UK’s foreign policy, will encourage British companies to steer away from investments that are damaging to the environment, detrimental to human rights, exploit workers or encourage child labour.

But he warned he had not been sanctioned by ministers to advise on areas such as promotion of the small arms trade or involvement in GM foods. ‘It’s more to do with the bigger ethical questions,’ he said. ‘We’re looking generically rather than at specific industries at this stage.’ He did, however, hint that the manual might look at such issues ‘in due course’.

The Global Citizenship Unit has been consulting various charities about the manual, as well as aid organizations, non governmental organizations and companies that the Foreign Office believes have a good record on responsible investment abroad.

Newton described a foundation meeting with leaders of 50 NGOs and businesses as ‘very positive’ – and claimed he now had a clear idea of the structure of the document.

‘My provisional target is to get it out within 12 months, but I’d much rather have a good product that has a broad measure of acceptance than something that is quick but does not,’ he said.

The manual will be available in embassies and consulates throughout the world and is expected to be supported by seminars on corporate responsibility and global citizenship, possibly run with the help of the Confederation of British Industry.

The Foreign Office says the manual is particularly aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises and will include examples of good practice.




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