Ed Miliband responds

November 07, 2014

Another day, another reply. This week we’re really grateful to campaigners who have sent in the letter they have received from Ed Miliband’s office, outlining the response of the Labour party to Traidcraft’s Justice campaign. You can read the response in full at the bottom of this blog post. Here’s our reaction.

A long time ago, I was given some good advice about exams. ‘Read the question. Then read it again. Then answer the question that is asked, not the one you wanted it to be.’

Well, Ed Miliband’s officials have clearly heeded these words. They’ve read our campaign report and policy briefing (here, if you want them), and have taken on board what we’re asking.

They tell us that they share our concerns, and agree that ‘while we enjoy strong workplace and legal protections at home, this is not the case across the world.’ So far, so good.

They go on to say that ‘more needs to be done.’ Even better.

However from this point on, as with many of my own exam answers, the letter gets a little more vague and a little less convincing.

They tell us that the ‘new international development agenda … is a vital opportunity to make further progress on this.’

This is referring to the new ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) which are being developed through the United Nations. These will replace the current ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) which set out global aspirations for reducing poverty and inequality and are due to expire in 2015.

The new goals are yet to be formally adopted. The current Sustainable Development Goal 16 is the most relevant to the Justice campaign: ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.’

Underneath this, is target 16.3: ‘Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all.’

Of course these are aims that Traidcraft totally supports. But with no timescale and no indication of how they will be achieved, both the goal and the target at the moment are – to put it mildly – aspirational.

If the Labour party believes that this new development agenda is an opportunity to deliver justice for people harmed by British businesses around the world, it needs to set out some concrete proposals for how this might happen.

Next in the letter: ‘the private sector needs to do more.’ We agree absolutely, and Traidcraft as a company shows what can be done by companies committed to making a positive difference. But as we’ve pointed out on this blog before, companies which have improved their practice are currently being undermined by those that have not. There needs to be pressure for the ‘laggards’ to act, and level the playing field.

Finally, the letter tells us that any future Labour government will ‘put human rights at the heart of international development’. Fine words. But what does this mean in practice?

Here are our suggestions for action by the next government:

  • Make it possible to bring criminal prosecutions in the UK against British companies that abuse human rights in other countries.
  • Remove the barriers which stop people from poor communities bringing civil cases in the UK courts.
  • Ensure that companies can also be held to account effectively outside the court system.

Thanks for your reply, Ed. You’ve made a good start, but now’s the time to put some substance and commitments behind the warm words.

You can still email Ed Miliband and the other UK political leaders to ask what they plan to do to bring justice for victims of UK companies.

 

Full text of the letter:

(NB: Jim Murphy has now been replaced as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development by Mary Creagh.)

Thank you for contacting Ed Miliband recently regarding Traidcraft’s ‘Stand up for Justice’ campaign.

We share your concerns about this extremely important issue and agree that the alleged abuses highlighted by Traidcraft such as those at the North Mara gold mine in Tanzania remind us that while we enjoy strong workplace and legal protections at home, this is not the case across the world. Traidcraft’s campaign also highlights that people in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to exploitation from employers and are often unable to seek redress from multinational companies.

Thankfully there has been some progress on this in recent years, and the previous Labour Government did take some welcome steps by introducing the Corporate Manslaughter Act and Corporate Homicide Act (2007) and the Bribery Act (2010), the latter of which allows companies to be prosecuted for actions that take place overseas.

Traidcraft welcomed both of these Acts and the current Government’s decision to support the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which set out important common principles on the rights and obligations of Governments and businesses to protecting human rights.

Labour agree, however, that more needs to be done to ensure that victims of alleged corporate abuse can seek justice, wherever the offence has taken place.

We believe that the creation of a new international development agenda in 2015 (i.e. when the Millennium Development Goals expire) is a vital opportunity to make further progress on this and to ensure that human rights and good governance – including from private companies – is at the heart of international development. We also believe that the private sector needs to do more to commit to decent labour standards across the world.

The Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Jim Murphy, has emphasised that a future Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of international development and work to promote human rights and workers’ rights abroad, and Labour will continue to press the Government to listen carefully to the concerns that have been raised by Traidcraft on this issue and lead international efforts to make further progress.

Thank you once again for writing to Ed Miliband to share your views on this important issue.