Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


First objections are raised to rights commission idea

September 2009

Signs of opposition to a proposed UK commission for business and human rights have emerged in new evidence given to the House of Commons joint committee on human rights.

Figures including the UK government minister of justice, a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) all expressed reservations about the establishment of a government commission on human rights that would deal directly with dispute resolution and be able to adjudicate on complaints against the conduct of UK companies abroad.
The idea has been put forward by the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, which would like to see a commission created by 2013 (EP11, issue 2, p7).

In evidence to the committee’s inquiry on business and human rights, MP and minister of justice Michael Wills said the state needs ‘to be careful about putting extra burdens on business at the moment’ and that he and his department ‘do not think that regulation is necessarily the best way’ of protecting human rights abroad.

His words – which gave the first public indication of the government’s thoughts on the matter – were backed by Peter Reading, a lawyer and member of the EHRC, and CBI head Gary Campkin, who both expressed concerns over the ‘extraterritorial’ authority of such a commission.

Reading said: ‘We see some potential problems with that proposal. For example, if in principle the country in which the business is operated has jurisdiction, then how would the British body be able to take action in those circumstances, or should it be able to take such action?’

Campkin said the proposal ‘needs a lot more thinking through [as to] exactly how it might operate’, and argued against any kind of ‘British Alien Tort Act’ that would cover companies’ overseas operations.

The inquiry, set up in the spring, (EP10, issue 11, p3) will report later this year. Transcripts of evidence have been released but are officially ‘uncorrected’.

Corporate Responsibility Coalition | UK & NI Ireland | Human rights

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