Traidcraft has long been campaigning for changes in the law so British companies can be prosecuted for causing harm and abuse to people abroad. In Parliament, the support for the campaign is growing and recently the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report that echoes many of Traidcraft's demands.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights is a cross-party committee of MPs and peers that conduct inquiries and provide recommendations on human rights issues for the Houses of Parliament. In a new report published last month it urges the government to bring forward legislation that would require British companies to prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains, and make it a criminal offence if they fail to do so.
The report says companies need to put in place processes to prevent human rights abuses from occurring (also known as due diligence), both among subsidiaries and across their whole supply chains. If abuses happen in their supply chains, people in other countries should be able to seek remedy in the UK – one of the key demands of Traidcraft’s Justice Campaign.
The Joint Committee, which took evidence from a range of experts including Traidcraft, further highlights the fact that current criminal law makes it very hard to prosecute British companies for offences abroad. Right now, a company can only be convicted if prosecutors can show that senior management were directly aware of the decision that led to the criminal offence. Yet, in practice this is very hard to prove, particularly in large multinational corporations that have complex structures.
To address this, the Joint Committee recommends the government to consider introducing a ‘failure to prevent’ offence. ‘Failure to prevent’ shifts the burden of proof onto the company. If abuse happens in their operations, they need to prove that they had taken sufficient measures to prevent it from happening – including if that harm happens overseas. This is another key demand in the Justice Campaign. Not only would it bring justice to many more people, it would also incentivise companies to put in place measures to prevent abuses from happening in the first place.
The Joint Committee’s report provides a strong set of recommendations from an influential cross-party group. Traidcraft supporters have played a critical role in making it happen, by meeting and writing to their MPs, building public opinion, and promoting the Justice Matters petition. It's an important step forward in our campaign and we should pat ourselves on the back!
Once the election is over, we look forward to hearing the new government’s response to the report. Any updates will be posted in the Campaigns Blog section.
The full ‘Human Rights and Business 2017’ report can be accessed here.