Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Inquiry backs calls for business and human rights body

February 2010

A parliamentary inquiry has called for the setting up of a  permanent UK commission for business and human rights.

The year-long inquiry into business and human rights, carried out by the House of Commons joint committee on human rights, has concluded that ‘legislative change is necessary to [ensure] that all private bodies performing public functions should be subject to the duty to act compatibly with human rights’.

Its report condemns the state’s failure to provide guidance and promote best practice – and suggests that ‘the government’s approach panders to the unjustified concerns of some in the private sector’.

While it acknowledges that establishing a commission for business and human rights might prove ‘an impossible task’, the Commons committee says it is ‘sympathetic’ to arguments in its favour put forward by groups such as the Core Coalition, an alliance of non-governmental organizations with an interest in human rights.

 Supporters of a commission say it should be able to look into allegations of misconduct by British companies abroad and perhaps help victims gain compensation.

The inquiry report recommends the government should at least work with NGOs, businesses and business groups to explore the idea of a commission.

The Core Coalition, whose members include Action Aid and War on Want, said the government must now ‘take the plunge’ and begin work to set up such a body. However, ministers  do not favour the idea and any decision on the matter is unlikely to be made before the general election this spring.  

While  it came out broadly in favour of a commission, the inquiry fell short of proposing a British version of the US Alien Tort Act, whereby American firms can face litigation for overseas activities. Such action would be ‘attractive’, but the committee said it was ‘not persuaded at this stage... that our inquiry should focus on new judicial remedies’.

It said: ‘The highest priority is for the government to make clear to UK business the human rights standards which businesses should meet to avoid human rights abuses arising.’

It also said the Companies Act should be amended to require businesses to undertake annual human rights impact assessments.

House of Commons | UK & NI Ireland | Human rights

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