Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


MPs to look at business impact on human rights

April 2009

A UK parliamentary committee has opened an inquiry into business and human rights.

The 12-member joint committee on human rights will investigate various issues, including what the government can do to engage companies on human rights and whether the existing regulatory framework needs adjustment.

It is the first time the cross-party committee of MPs and peers has specifically examined human rights as they relate to business. A report is expected in late autumn.

Despite having limited powers, the committee can consider and report on human rights in the UK and can influence the government to introduce policies or regulations. It has a role in reviewing human rights legislation and monitors the UK’s performance in the field.

Committee chair Andrew Dismore, a Labour MP, said one key question for the inquiry is whether ‘there are any gaps in the current legal and regulatory framework for UK business which need to be addressed and, if so, how?’ Members will gather evidence on whether the government gives adequate guidance to businesses on human rights obligations and what roles, if any, should be played by government departments.

Other issues to be considered include:
 how a ‘culture of respect’ for human rights can be encouraged in business
 whether UK businesses’ human rights responsibilities should be different in overseas operations
 whether a legal, regulatory or voluntary framework is needed to provide redress for people who claim their human rights have been breached through the activities of UK businesses.

The committee says remedies for victims could include legal devices, ombudsmen, complaints mechanisms and mediation.
Dismore added that the inquiry’s point of reference will be the recent report to the United Nations by John Ruggie, the UN special representative on business and human rights. Ruggie said governments have the primary responsibility for upholding human rights, but companies must recognize their responsibilities and there must be more effective ways for corporate abuse victims to expose the breaches to which they have been subjected.    

Meanwhile, the UK-based CORE Coalition, which fought several years ago for mandatory reporting to be written into the UK’s revised company law, is to campaign for a government commission to investigate UK companies’ human rights breaches abroad.

CORE is a grouping of civil society groups and some businesses whose steering committee includes ActionAid, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth and War on Want.

The organization says it will attempt to forge a closer alliance with businesses in its new campaign than it was able to achieve when pushing for mandatory reporting.

UK & NI Ireland | Human rights

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