Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


New commission would punish errant companies

June 2009

Proposals for the creation of a powerful UK commission on business and human rights have been announced by an alliance of prominent non-governmental organizations.

The Corporate Responsibility Coalition (Core) says the commission would act as a ‘dispute resolution body’ with a mandate to receive, investigate and settle complaints of abuse committed abroad by UK parent companies. It would also be empowered to ‘offer remedies’, such as requiring companies to compensate victims, publish an apology, or carry out actions ‘in relation to specific breaches’.

Core, whose steering committee includes Christian Aid, Oxfam, War on Want, and WWF, would like the body to be created by 2013.

The commission’s other roles would include:

  monitoring the impacts of UK companies abroad ‘in relation to recognized standards’

  conducting research, education and training on business human rights issues

  helping foreign governments develop their legal and administrative infrastructures so that human rights abuses become less prevalent.

The proposals have been outlined for the first time in a Core report commissioned from the London School of Economics. The findings have been submitted to the UK parliament’s joint committee on human rights, which recently began an inquiry into business and human rights (EP10, issue 11, p3). So far the government has not indicated whether it will support the idea.
The report, The reality of rights, states that UK companies that have committed human rights abuses overseas ‘far too often get away with it’, leaving victims without adequate redress. As well as providing such redress, the proposed commission would level the playing field by holding to account errant companies that give their peers a bad name.  

However, Core says a commission ‘would not be a silver bullet’ and concedes that, even if some rights abuses are ‘influenced in important ways’ by UK companies, others have predominantly local causes.

For example, it says, excessive hours among workers in the Kenyan flower sector are influenced by UK business decisions ‘to a significant extent’ – and could feasibly be redressed by a UK commission, while ‘locally embedded problems’ in that industry, such as sexual harassment, ‘would be more difficult for a UK body to address’.

John Morrison, executive director at the Institute for Human Rights and Business, a new organization that aims to improve understanding of the relationship between business and human rights, told EP the idea of a commission ‘makes sense’ but added: ‘For it to be sold politically and to make sense to progressive business, it would need to be seen as part of a push for a more level playing field and as a framework of accountability that really has the teeth to come after the worst offenders.’

Corporate Responsibility Coalition | UK & NI Ireland | Human rights

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